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Flower Drum Song holds a special place for me because it was the first
Broadway show I ever saw. And I don't think it's been given the proper
place in the pantheon of Rodgers&Hammerstein shows.
Back then minority players had a hard time getting parts and Flower Drum Song certainly filled a need there in the same way Porgy and Bess has done for black people. This was the first time a Broadway show was completely cast with oriental players. A milestone not to be overlooked.
Several of the Broadway cast made it to the film version. Juanita Hall, Patrick Adiarte, Keye Luke and most of all Miyoshi Umeki repeated their roles. Miyoshi was very big news then. When I saw the play she had just won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Sayonara. Also a significant milestone, very significant in the repair of Japanese- American relations from World War II.
Jack Soo also made it from Broadway. But on Broadway the future Detective Nick Yemana of the bad coffee, was the "Commodore" from the Chinese nightclub. Here he is one of the male leads in a part originated by Larry Blyden on Broadway. Soo's deadpan delivery that made him so popular on Barney Miller is working undertime here. If you liked him on Barney Miller, he's great here.
James Shigeta took the place of one Ed Kenney from Broadway. Shigeta was at the start of a long career as probably THE Oriental leading man in American films for many years.
The big hit song from Flower Drum Song is I Enjoy Being a Girl which was and is the anti-battle cry against feminism. Doris Day had a big hit record of it (she would), but today feminists would be picketing the show with the message that conveys. I mean, really, the goal of the American woman is to be barefoot and pregnant at the "home of a brave and free male." Gloria Steinem would have cardiac arrest.
Nancy Kwan does wonderfully in the role of Linda Low who lip syncs those sentiments previously mentioned. Right around this time, Kwan, France Nuyen, and Nobu McCarthy all came along at the same time and seemed to battle for the same parts.
Two songs that are overlooked gems are You Are Beautiful which Johnny Mathis sang beautifully on record and Love Look Away. The latter is sung offscreen by Metropolitan Opera diva Marilyn Horne. That's not to be missed.
And neither is Flower Drum Song.
This is film making the likes of which will never be seen again. It gives romance, comedy, drama and a fantastic Rodgers and Hammerstein score. Ross Hunter pulled out all the stops making this film a feast for the eyes with fabulous technicolor, brilliant costumes and the great Hermes Pan doing some of the most original choreography of his career. It's escapism at its best. Miyoshi Umeki gives a fresh and fantastic oscar worthy performance totally topping her oscar winning role in Sayonara. For some reason this film has always been overlooked and the score written off as forgettable maybe because it doesnt have a caucasian leading actor and the music isnt as instantly recognizable as The Sound Of Music. Of course you know its going to be a happy ending but you don't have any idea how the characters are going to overcome the obstacles. The music may take some people a closer listening but it is definately R&H in top form - from the ballads to the swing numbers - it's poetic clever and very melodic. This film like all big musicals is best seen on the big screen where it can be enjoyed as it was meant to be. It really is a secret gem.
Speaking for myself, I have been a huge fan of FDS since the '70s when
I bought the soundtrack album (on Decca) at a used record store for $7.
I saw it on TV one new years day i think 1980 and it's been one of my
favorites ever since. Not only is it one of R and H's best scores,
Alfred Newman's arrangements are simply lush and beautiful. The cast
and the director are all top notch. The screen play is delightful,
perhaps a bit long, but rather too long than eliminate one of the great
songs, some of which were already edited down from the original
Broadway version which was directed by the great Gene Kelly. I have
often wondered what would have happened if he had directed the movie.
On stage, I do like the full two versions of The Other Generation, for
My wife is from the Peoples Rep. of China. Shes 28 and has been in the USA for 15 months as of this writing. I was going through my stuff recently in storage and came across of my heavily yellowed copy of CY Lee's novel FDS and thought my wife would enjoy it. She did. So i thought well now it's time to break out my old VHS copy which i hadn't seen since 1990. it was playable but storage hasn't been very kind to it. C'Mon DVD!!!
Her final comment was "cute". Benson Fong's Mr. Wang reminded her of her own father. Even though my wonderful father in law is a hard line communist, I see the obvious paternal, controlling similarities between them. He made her very nostalgic for her home land and her family. If we ever have any sons, he will probably be like Wang San in many ways and she could see the old man's reaction to his youngest son's could be very similar between her father and our son yet to be conceived.
What she thought was laughably bad was "A Hundred Million Miracles" trying to be passed off as a real flower drum song. She said, "if they sung that in China as a flower drum song they would have been stoned to death." She almost lost interest in the movie at that point especially since the movie and original play deviate from the novel at that point. So she didn't buy that at all. Sammy Fong's lecherous behavior was also realistic for a Chinese businessman. My wife related to that too.
She didn't buy some of the costuming especially young women wearing hats. Married women wore hats in the '50s but Mei Li apparently wouldn't.
Speaking of Mei Li, she totally bought her character both in the book and the movie. Very realistic portrayal and Miyoshi looked like a typical peasant girl albeit Miyoshi is Japanese not Chinese and that was evident immediately.
Linda Low, though not a big part of the novel, if at all, (I have forgotten if that character appears in it), was another realistic character, even today in 2006!! She reminded both us of, well... shall we say... materialistic girls you could meet everyday in Shanghai, the ones that unsuspecting foreigners need to be careful of. In any event, Nancy Kwan has another fan in my wife. We have a copy of Suzie Wong - book and movie - in China.
For myself, it was interesting seeing the movie after having lived three years in the PRC and what an admirable job the creators of the movie did in keeping with the culture. They missed a few things obviously, but for two Jewish boys from NYC, R and H as well as Joseph Fields libretto did an awesome job of keeping it real, much more so here than with the King and I which both play and movie are banned forever in Thailand because the Thai people find it so offensive.
As far as David Hwang's remake of FDS goes, I really can't comment on it because I haven't read it or seen it. I don't know if I really want to although I am curious just because I have been a supporter of FDS for so many years. If the idea for the remake is to resemble the novel more, than I am all for it. I love the novel and I think the original play and movie missed opportunities for beefing up the Helen Chao character better. She just kinds of disappears with no mention of her suicide after the hauntingly beautiful "Love Look Away" a show stopper if there ever was one. That is a flaw.
I just love Sammy Fong. How can you have FDS without Sammy Fong? He is just so sleazy and brilliant and wonderful invention by the creative team. How can you do FDS without 'the other generation" in any version. That's the whole point of the both the novel and the original play as well as the movie - the generation gap and the cultural gap. In portraying that, FDS, the original play and movie, succeed on pretty much every level If the idea to create a new version of FDS was because the movie and play portrayed negative stereotypes, my wife who is Chinese has to disagree. She loves the characters in this movie; in many ways, they brought China to life for her and what it is like living in a totally new culture, not understanding anything at all, or in her case thinking you know a foreign culture because you have worked with foreigners and finding it's completely different over here.
Kudos and thank you to RandH, Ross Hunter and his team in creating a movie that has aged so gracefully, (as has Ms. Kwan) for the most part, and making serious cultural and generational issues that will probably never go away fun. This movie will be current in 100 years.
The last time I saw Flower Drum Song on a big screen was at the Asian Pacific American Studies event at New York University, spurred on by David Henry Hwang's Broadway revival which received favorable reviews except for one paper. I was invited because my father created the film titles. Socialogical connotations at the event were discussed: cultural and generational conflicts, old and new set in the City on Golden Hill, the quest to achieve, etc. I have seen the original musical, the film many times, and the revival which deserved a longer run. Then the film began. I was impressed by Nancy Kwan's acting and others, memorable musical numbers and the opening and closing title paintings by my father, Dong Kingman. In many ways a beautiful film, and a case can be made, a pioneering one. Okay so it is a bit corny, a few young members of audience uneasily snickered at the stereotypes, scenes could have been cut, especially one fantasy sequence. Yet the Flower Drum Song endures and to enjoy. Rating is 7 1/2, plus half star more for dad.
This one takes me right back to the sixties when we were young and full of hope for the future. We saw it as a first run movie at Graumann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood and loved it. Even today, on the television set, it holds up well and the overture just jumps out at you. Soon, you hear "A Hundred Million Miracles, with doll-like Miyoshi Umeki, and other great songs like "Love Look Away," and "Sunday." The choreography is as impressive as the music, in particular the erotic dance sequence for "Love Look Away," with beautiful Reiko Sato as Helen. Her unrequited love for Ta (James Shigeta) is never neatly resolved, unlike the film's other romantic relationships, and unfortunately, she died in real life only twenty years later. Nancy Kwan as Linda Low, of course, looks great, sings well, and slinks around very nicely, as do the many other lovely Asian dancers who grace this testament to Chinese American culture and oriental beauty. The funniest and best acting came from old man Wang, played by Benson Fong. He complained to his wife's sister (Juanita Hall) that after five long years of citizenship school, the only thing she could say about America was, "This isn't China!" And when asked to describe the mugger who had robbed him on his doorstep, he replied simply, "How should I know. All white men look alike." James Shigeta and Jack Soo handed in memorable performances, as well. The former became one of the most successful and consistently employed oriental actors in American film and television, while the latter went on to play Nick Yemana on "Barney Miller." Although there are some corny aspects to "Flower Drum Song," these are more than counterbalanced by the many interesting elements that occur throughout the movie. In short, it's a sort of "Joy Luck Club" of the early sixties, on a similar level and released about the same time as "South Pacific" and "West Side Story." A couple of years later, America was again impacted by the Orient. The beautiful song "Sukiyaki," an imported hit from Japan, went to number one on the American pop charts. We had our problems in those days, but culturally speaking, it was a great time to be alive.
As a Japanese-American raised in the 1960's, I always had mixed
feelings about the 1961 film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's
Chinese-American musical comedy. Although it was refreshing to see so
many Asian faces in a mainstream studio movie (granted several
Japanese-American actors in Chinese roles), the portrayals always
struck me as trite and catering to pre-existing stereotypes. Now that
it has finally come out on DVD forty-five years after its initial
release, I can appreciate it much more without raising my eyebrows as
much, perhaps because it now seems so much a nostalgic product of
Eisenhower-era sensibilities. Another reason is that the DVD contains a
pristine print that balances the saturated use of color throughout.
Moreover, there is the music, which while not grade-A material from the
legendary team, has enough of their recognizably melodious style to
make the whole affair quite entertaining now.
Set in San Francisco's Chinatown in the late 1950's, the soufflé-light story, written by Joseph Fields, is a family-oriented, musical-chairs romantic comedy focused on East-West cultural differences primarily in the well-to-do Wang household headed by the ultra-traditional Master Wang. It starts with pretty Mei Li, who has stowed away on a Chinese steamer with her professor father to become a mail-order bride for nightclub owner Sammy Fong. En route, they end up staying in the Wang home where she develops a crush on eldest son Wang Ta. But he is infatuated with saucy showgirl Linda Low, who is intent on making Sammy jealous enough for him to propose after five years of non-commitment. Wang Ta and Linda turn out to be a mismatch, which would be good news if only Mei Li's marriage contract were not so binding. If that situation is not complicated enough, dressmaker Helen Chao has a lifelong crush on Wang Ta as well.
An all-Asian cast was assembled, a rarity in itself back then, and it helps that most perform within the constraints of the movie quite well. Looking like a porcelain doll brought to life, Miyoshi Umeki lends her uniquely plaintive quality to the role of Mei Li, and she sings with quiet clarity on her trademark song, "A Hundred Million Miracles". As Wang Ta, James Shigeta, also a pleasant singer, is sincere with the matinée idol looks to match, although his naïve character seems excessively dim when it comes to women. Both, however, are overshadowed by the shenanigans provided by Nancy Kwan, at her pin-up cutie peak, as Linda, and Jack Soo in full Dean Martin mode as the cynical Sammy. Even though their stormy relationship seems to be lifted completely from Nathan and Adelaide's in "Guys and Dolls", they provide the lion's share of the entertainment with the domestic fantasy, "Sunday" a particular highlight.
While dubbed, Kwan performs the boudoir classic, "I Enjoy Being a Girl", with sexy flair, and she dances with graceful exuberance on "Fan Tan Fannie" and especially on "Grand Avenue" with a virtual battalion of dancers. Benson Fong, who memorably played Charlie Chan's #3 son in his youth, brings the necessary bluster to Master Wang, while Juanita Hall, Bloody Mary from "South Pacific", stays mainly on the sidelines as the understanding Auntie Liang except when she solos on "Chop Suey". Of the supporting cast, two performers stand out - teenaged Patrick Adiarte dancing energetically as younger son Wang Tan, and as the lovelorn Helen, Reiko Sato leads a stunning ballet on the show's best song, "Love, Look Away" (her voice is dubbed by legendary soprano Marilyn Horne). The opening credits showcase a series of striking watercolor paintings from artist Dong Kingman, and Russell Metty's richly colorful cinematography can finally be appreciated with the DVD.
The 2006 DVD extras are generous starting with a solid commentary track from Kwan and British film historian Nick Redman. Even though Kwan sometimes gets derailed by her life story, she and Redman partner well in bringing out intriguing aspects of the production and cast. There are five featurettes which feel like components of one feature-length documentary since the same participants show up in all five. The first one talks about the story's transition from the original novel by C.Y. Lee to the Broadway musical directed by Gene Kelly to the 1961 movie to the 2002 Broadway revival developed by David Henry Hwang. The other shorts focus on the casting, the score, sets and costumes, and a more personal look at Rodgers and Hammerstein. It's interesting how veteran filmmaker Henry Koster is barely mentioned since he directed the film, though his pedestrian direction is truly the least impressive part of the movie.
When I saw this movie, it caught me in the right mood to really enjoy this film. In fact, I was almost misty eyed when Helen turns to lament the song "Love Look Away". Only "Where is Love?" from OLIVER is a more moving emotional song that fits directly into the story and the movie. I think the acting is superb and can't understand why this R & H musical doesn't attract more attention.
Many of the songs are very well done and enjoyable, especially Nancy Kwan's "I Enjoy Being a Girl." Yowza! All the actors are fabulous and the lines are a ball. Not only is it a love story but a great tale of modern vs. traditional values and absolutely suitable for all ages.
The 1961 musical "Flower Drum Song" is a fabulous Ross Hunter 
production (top-notch art direction, cinematography, costume design,
set decoration, film editing and sound). I found myself enjoying it
more and more. I do like "The King and I" "Oklahoma!" "Carousel", yet
"Flower Drum Song" is culturally diverse, 'oriental USA' and very much
San Franciscan. Directed by Henry Koster , music and lyrics from the
popular pair of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein 2nd, with Alfred
Newman supervised & conducted the music score which included a wide
spectrum from Asian 'flower drum song' tune, to jazzy rhythm, strings
orchestral for ballet/dance pieces, to montage songs and cabaret show
numbers / big band melodies; associate vocal music arranger Ken Darby,
and simply marvelous choreography by Hermes Pan.
Such a stellar cast: Nancy Kwan as Linda Low and Jack Soo as Sammy, Miyoshi Umeki as Mei Li and James Shigeta as Ta, Juanita Hall (of "South Pacific" 1958 fame) as Madam Liang / 'my wife's sister,' Benson Fong as Ta's father / 'my sister's husband,' Reiko Sato as Helen Chao (the seamstress), and what an amazing, versatile dancer Patrick Adiarte is (his debut role was in "The King and I" 1956 as the eldest prince opposite Yul Brynner). The musical numbers and songs are catchy and entertaining, matching key segments of the storyline: A Hundred Million Miracles; (What Are We Going To Do About) The Other Generation; Chop Suey; I Enjoy Being A Girl; Sunday (Sweet Sunday); Fan Tan Fannie; Grant Avenue; Love Look Away (sung by Marilyn Horne); Don't Marry Me; and more. Turning on the subtitles feature, one can see the lyrics and easy to sing along, too.
Based on C.Y. Lee's novel of the same name, Joseph Fields (also associate producer) wrote an engaging screenplay, blended humor and 'coined' words of the times within the dialogs. Juanita Hall's grocery food order ("four pounds of seahorse, two pounds of dry snake meat, a box of longevity noodles") over the phone ending with "and a dozen thousand-year eggs, and be sure they're fresh" is an absolute gem. Imagine TV turned out to be a resource of solution to our heroines and their beaus romantic predicaments. Unforgettable: Mei Li said to Ta, "tomorrow we must go to Temple of Tin How and thank the Goddess of Heaven for television." Such quality produced films are rare these days. If you don't usually watch musicals, give "Flower Drum Song" a try, it's drama and humor would provide an enjoyable time.
 Memorables produced by Ross Hunter: "The Chalk Garden" 1964 (d: Ronald Neame; Hayley Mills, Deborah Kerr, John Mills); "Pillow Talk" 1959 (with Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Thelma Ritter, Tony Randall); "Imitation of Life" 1959 (d: Douglas Sirk; Lana Turner, Juanita Moore, Sandra Dee)
 Favorites directed by Henry Koster: "Three Smart Girls" 1936 with Deanna Durbin; "The Singing Nun" 1966 with Debbie Reynolds. Highly recommend - intelligent drama with suspense (in B/W, not a musical): "No Highway in the Sky" 1951with James Stewart as an aeronautical engineer who's steadfast and persistent, Glynis Johns as the sensible and caring air hostess, and Marlene Dietrich as only Dietrich could. (VHS only as yet)
What is the hold up with the DVD release of the fantastic film. It should be out on DVD ASAP. This Rodgers and Hammerstein at their best, it ranks up there with "THE SOUND OF MUSIC". Get on the ball Universal and release this on DVD. Outstanding cast, Magnificent sets, Stunning costumes, and a FANTASTIC soundtrack.
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