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My Very First Musical
bkoganbing24 July 2005
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.
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New DVD Resuscitates Rodgers and Hammerstein's Quaintly Entertaining East-Meets-West Musical
EUyeshima7 November 2006
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.
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I loved rewatching Flower Drum Song with my mom watching with me this time!
tavm13 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I had originally watched this movie in the '90s when I lived in Jacksonville, FL. So last night, I showed this on DVD with my mom viewing it with me. She had never seen this before so she managed to enjoy it just as much as I did watching this again. During my original viewing, I had a problem with Wang Ta's going from Linda Low to Mei Li since Linda was teasing him and Mei Li was too reticent for my tastes which meant I would have preferred he have gone with Helen. Part of me still feels that way but I'm now used to the way things eventually worked out so I'm now okay with that. Anyway, like I said, I enjoyed this much better the second time around especially with the great look presented on the DVD. Loved the cast of Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta, Miyoshi Umeki, Reiko Sato, Benson Fong, Juanita Hall, Victor Sen Yung, Patrick Adiarte (like me and Mom, a Filipino), and especially, Jack Soo! In fact, one of my favorite sequences was his being knocked out twice in the "Sunday" number! I also loved seeing the cowboy and Indian-in black and white-cavorting with the Technicolor players in that one. Oh, and what a great way in presenting multiple Nancy Kwans in the "I Like Being a Girl" number. The Rodgers & Hammerstein score was really good. Really, all I'll say is I highly recommend this film version of Flower Drum Song.
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Worth the wait - director Henry Koster's Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Flower Drum Song" finally available on DVD as Special Edition
ruby_fff2 December 2006
The 1961 musical "Flower Drum Song" is a fabulous Ross Hunter [1] 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 [2], 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.

[1] 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)

[2] 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)
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A Great Musical from the Early Sixties
writerasfilmcritic23 August 2005
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.
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gbill-7487728 May 2020
A groundbreaking and charming film. It doesn't reach quite as high as maybe it could have and it's got a few flaws, but it was enormous step forward at the time, and it's entertaining besides. The cast has a lot of underrated star power (Nancy Kwan and James Shigeta), there are some really nice musical numbers, and the heart of this film is in the right place, treating Asian-Americans as people for a change.

The main message of this film is pretty loud and clear to me - Asian-Americans are just as American as anyone else - and this is where the film truly shines. Quite a bit of it deals with the gap between older and younger generations, and could have been applied to any immigrant culture. We see the kids spouting slang, playing baseball, and dressed up as Revolutionary War figures for a parade. In one number we see the electric Nancy Kwan singing not in some exotic getup or about some Chinese-specific theme, but simply "I Enjoy Being a Girl" in front of three mirrors ala Marilyn Monroe or Bridget Bardot. Jack Soo is a nightclub owner and as smooth as Dean Martin, and suave leading man James Shigeta reminded me of Peter Lawford. None of them speak with an awful accent or in caricature, and one of the nice moments early on shows that people on the streets of Chinatown don't necessarily know how to read Chinese. The story that has three women (Reiko Sato is the third) romantically interested in the two men is a little silly, but it's similar to others in this genre, it's pretty damn nice to see the male characters not emasculated and the open kissing. Quite a bit of the film is universal.

It's a little hit and miss in the musical numbers, but there are several standouts:
  • The three kids dancing and singing in "The Other Generation" - absolutely adorable.
  • Nancy Kwan in her lingerie and beautiful outfits in "I Enjoy Being a Girl" - hello, and she's fantastic throughout.
  • The ensemble cast breaking out into vibrant American dancing towards the end of "Chop Suey" - very cool and so joyful.
  • Reiko Sato in "Love Look Away," which includes some dreamy and ethereal effects - simply gorgeous.

There are also some nice little visual touches, such as the different mirrors reflecting different things in "I Enjoy Being a Girl," and black and white cowboy and Indian characters coming out of a TV to run around in "Sunday." The latter are played by Asian-Americans and there's a lot to unpack there, but suffice to say it's a little unfortunate this bit wasn't based on some other traditional/classic American movie type.

Where the film fails a bit is in its depiction of Chinese customs, which is maybe not surprising given the Western writers/composers and the fact that this was playing to a 1961 audience, but a little disappointing nonetheless. The 'flower drum song' ("A Hundred Million Miracles") is unengaging musically and inauthentic culturally, and watching the first performance in the Celestial Gardens nightclub is like eating a highly westernized version of Chinese food. While most of the characters are far from stereotypical and quite refreshing, the young woman from China (Miyoshi Umeki) is too subservient, particularly when she finds herself being paired up with the nightclub owner and more than willing to accept all of his flaws. Her character and her musical performances were my least favorite part of the film, though even she has a nice little moment imitating Soo at the end of "Don't Marry Me."

Overall though, this is a fine film, even touching on humanizing illegal immigration. You can count films from Hollywood with such Asian representation on one hand over the years, and unless I'm forgetting one, the next wouldn't be for over three decades (The Joy Luck Club (1993)). It's a shame that Anna May Wong died earlier in the year at just 56, and couldn't play the part of the aunt/sister-in-law as planned, or even see the film - I'm sure she would have loved it.
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It caught me just right.
var-124 March 2002
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.
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Forget the PC and enjoy the movie, musical numbers, actors and film titles.
kingcom14 March 2005
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.
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Charming Musical in a Time of Invisibility for Asian Americans
LeonardKniffel29 April 2020
Although the Broadway show did not produce many hit songs, watching this film version of the popular musical comedy offers an opportunity to appreciate just how wonderful many of the songs are, in particular the deceptively simple "A Hundred Million Miracles." Not surprising, since the music is by the incomparable team of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II. "I Enjoy Being a Girl," sung by gorgeous Nancy Kwan, has been recorded by many singers and even parodied in a Gap commercial by Sarah Jessica Parker. "Grant Avenue" belongs in the pantheon of great songs about San Francisco, and "You Are Beautiful" echoes the simple wisdom of "A Hundred Million Miracles." Of course this musical is a popularized version of what it means to be Chinese in America, but the show deals seriously with the controversial issue of illegal immigration. "Where are you from," a police officer asks Miyoshi Umeki and her father, who have sneaked into the U.S. as cargo from China. "The East," they respond. "Oh, New York?" says the officer. "No, further east," the father quips. Umeki is disarmingly amusing in her assessments of American culture, although some critics in the Chinese community objected to her being given the role, since she was of Japanese descent. ---from Musicals on the Silver Screen, American Library Association, 2013
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What my Chinese (PRC) wife thought of FDS
jppu7 April 2006
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 example.

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.
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Fun film with lots of enjoyable songs
guidafamily28 May 2001
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.
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old traditions in a new setting
ksf-220 July 2020
Arriving in San Francisco on a boat, a Chinese girl Mei Li ( Miyoshi Umeki was Mrs. Livingston in "Courtship") performs in the park, and Pops gets to work on getting her married off. which is pretty much the plot of the film. it's an arranged marriage, but the groom has other plans. Stars Nancy Kwan as Linda Low, the other plan. Some familiar names here.. James Shigeta, Jack Soo (Barney Miller). James Hong, again, as the waiter, similar to his appearance on Seinfeld. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote some fun, upbeat musical numbers. Chop Suey is fun. and the dancers in Grant Avenue are just impeccable. they must have rehearsed for days. the rolling dress dummies bit is just weird. and dancing around the yellow foot-stools was just silly. did they run short of material? the sets are just awesome. nominated for five oscars! some funny gags. the young whippersnapper Wang San, has picked up all the american sayings, and it annoys the parents, who are stuck in the old ways. it's odd that Umeki is listed last in the cast, but she sings the most songs and appears in almost every scene. Everyone must wait for Ta to choose between the flashy Linda and the reserved, more traditional Li. It's a fun film, even if it gets silly at times. based on the novel by Chin Lee. Directed by Henry Koster. directed so many great films.
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Very loosely based on C.Y. Lee's novel
emuir-14 January 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I thoroughly enjoyed this film, although it is loosely based on the book, which was mainly about the difficulties of young Chinese men finding wives during the time of the Chinese exclusion act and miscengenation laws, and the difficulty of well educated young Asian men finding meaningful work that their education had prepared them for - PhD.'s working in supermarkets - get the idea!

Possible spoiler for those who have not read the book:

Mei Li and her father are not overtly fleeing communism, nor is she a mail order bride, they tagged along as long time servants with a General who was fleeing the red menace, and got work in the US as servants. Sammy Fong was invented for the stage show and Linda Low (Tung) got run out of town in the first half of the book.

Still, it would be hard to make a light frothy musical about the darker themes dealt with in the book, we do go to the theater to be entertained after all, and American audiences in the early 60's did not want to be confronted with politically motivated racial problems.

Perhaps we need a serious film sticking faithfully to the more serious issues which were raised.
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Charming film
Blueghost25 March 2017
Mid 1990s my girlfriend and I were three blocks away from Kearny in the downtown section of San Francisco, and it took us an hour to go one block because of Christmas traffic.

I tell that story because because Kearny, which goes right through Chinatown, although it flows well, gets more crowded every year, and this film, even though it was shot on stage, does give a bit of a glimpse into early 1960s San Francisco, before the civil rights movement and before the more recent tech-revolution from the 90s up to this very day. The city was less crowded, a bit more friendlier, and certainly more affordable.

The schism portrayed in this film between immigrant Chinese and those who had been here a few generations since before the gold rush, still exists somewhat, but isn't quite as pronounced as depicted here. Then again "Flower Drum Song" is a musical, and not exactly an anthropological study of immigrant race trying to meld with their new host nation.

The musical numbers are enjoyable, the acting is a bit more pronounced than today's less melodrama driven so-called "method" acting, which is a bit welcome. A man gets tired of alleged "realistic" performances from talent hoping to be remembered for great performances.

"Flower Drum Song", like a lot of movies coming out of Hollywood, is meant to show the positive light of Chinese Americans in a time when the world was not interconnected as it is today, and in this way is meant to hopefully enlighten non-Chinese the nation over (and beyond). The more relaxed mind will be tend to be open to the message, but my main criticism with a lot of these films is that you'll not crack the hardened bigot no matter how good a show you put on. Even so, it's a very enjoyable film, though I can guarantee you that Grant Avenue is usually packed and has an odd mix of smells of imported and freshly caught food for restaurants and stores alike.

The characters are stock, borderline stereotypes at times, but otherwise much in the tradition of the film portraying the traditional old guard elders emotionally clashing with their offspring who bring who new ideas and American pop culture to the home. A collision occurs.

Do young hearts know what they want? Does father know best? Are traditions the best way to go, or is the American way the best way? It's a musical from the late 50s early 60s and the proposition is portrayed in that spirit.

If I had one critique it's that the DVD gets a little grainy for the few SFX shots, notably for Nancy Kwan's mirror sequence. That, and like nearly all musicals of the time, the thing is shot entirely on stage, which has always been a sore point with me.

Otherwise it's a very beautiful film, and you should see it at least once. If you like the theatre, enjoy a good musical, then this will probably prove delightful.

Give it a whirl.
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When you go to San Francisco, play "Flower Drum Song" in your head...
mark.waltz11 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
And make sure you head down to Grant Avenue, 'cause the girl who brings your food is another tasty dish! Some critics called this (one of the few musicals to focus on Asians) "A World of Woozy Song", but if there is anything woozy about it, I certainly didn't feel it. In fact, I think this (after "Carousel") is perhaps one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's loveliest scores, and certainly as profound as "South Pacific" and "The King and I". But with a song like "Love Look Away", you have one of the most heart-wrenching ballads in a Broadway show, sung tenderly by a rather minor character you truly feel empathy for. "A Hundred Million Miracles" is certainly filled with indefinite promise, and "Chop Suey" gives us a taste of what Americans have taken from the Chinese culture and transformed into their own flavor. Long before "Kids" from "Bye Bye Birdie", there was "The Other Generation", sung first by the adults who certainly don't understand the teens then later by the teens who have become Americanized and don't understand the adults, new Americans from another country. "I Enjoy Being a Girl" would also be re-formatted for "Birdie" as "How Lovely to Be a Woman". Unlike the rock and roll world of "Birdie", this is a definite salute to the changing traditions of Asian Americans (or any offspring of immigrants from any culture), it combines modern dance trends and the cultural influence on the young from their more traditional seniors. Like the Puerto Ricans of "West Side Story", all these youngsters want is a chance, and that is a theme that any culture can identify with.

A decade ago, someone came along and turned "Flower Drum Song" into a shell of itself with a "revisal" story for Broadway that was part "Cinderella" and more woozy than Goldilocks after eating the porridge. Claiming that some of the original portrayals of Asian Americans were "offensive", they took out the family element of the original source, which defeated the whole purpose of the generational conflict. Even by giving its heroine a "Miss Saigon" type drama with her escape from Communist China, the remainder of that revival cheated itself in spite of an interesting prologue that ended up being more "stereotypical" by totally changing the structure of the established characters.

Miyoshi Umeki plays the young "wetback" (as she refers herself to be in an amusing manner) is an innocent young girl amazed by the differences she finds, and loves her new home. Then, there's sassy Linda (a fun Nancy Kwan-the Chinese Rita Moreno) who knows she's adorable and enjoys it tremendously. The difference between shyness and sassiness makes their acquaintance really sweet as well as those of the men they love.

Then, there's the older generation, lead by Benson Fong and Juanita Hall, repeating her Broadway role, and unlike the movie version of "South Pacific", getting to sing as she had on stage. The light-skinned African American Hall is the heart and soul here, as she was in "South Pacific". I've heard some critics called this generation a dated view of the Asian culture but anybody of a certain age can certainly identify with how the different generations relate. Patrick Adiarte as the baseball playing teen, adds a nice charm to his teen-aged character, having already gone down Rodgers and Hammerstein territory with his performance as the prince in "The King and I" on screen. (Years later, he would enter TV immortality as the Hawaiian acquaintance of Greg on "The Brady Bunch".) Reiko Sato, who sings the haunting "Love Look Away", is only on screen for a few minutes, but will steal your heart. Jack Soo ("Hawaii Five-O", "Thoroughly Modern Millie") adds some humor to his performance of the rascal who begs the sweet Umeki "Don't Marry Me". The lavish production really helps make this a fun movie experience, which unfortunately the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization have sold short thanks to pressures from outside groups.
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For a musical, it actually makes some good points...
coco!!!8 November 1999
I am from San Francisco, and while not of Asian descent, I am familiar with the cultural difficulties of "East vs West" -- and every time I see this movie, I am impressed with how this is handled. Ok, granted, it's a fluff-and-sparkle R&H songfest, and not one of their best or most famous, but it does have some good commentary - as when the younger brother pops in and out with his completely modern slang...with the more common "generation gap" themes running rampant at this time (early 60's), it's even more interesting...and, as I say, I lived in SF very near Chinatown - it "feels" right, even tho it's an entirely fake set. Don't dismiss it out of hand - it's no "Joy Luck Club" or "Double Happiness" but it's not bad, either.
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Great film that stands the test of time
guyyoung20006 November 2006
I watched the film last night with 2 Chinese friends who knew nothing about it. They loved every minute of it and so did I, 45 years after my initial viewing. It still has a great message for all of us no matter where we live and you just get swept away by the wonderful score. The dance routines are charming and the interiors quite exquisite. Nancy Kwan has never looked lovelier as Linda Loo and Jack Soo is always a delight.Juanita Hall brings her great presence to the role of Madame Liang and Miyoshi Umeki and James Shigeta are two fine performers. Patrick Adriarte dances with great verve. A great night's viewing for all!
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A Wonderful Musical with a wonderful musical score
mntwister25 January 2005
Flower Drum song is one of those movies that I think was very overlooked by the public and also the Academy. Miyoshi Umeki deserved at least an Academy Awards nomination. She carries this film and I can't imagine anyone playing the role more to perfection. Juanita Hall is fantastic and I wish there was more screen time with her, and the others are well cast. My only complaint with casting is Jack Soo. In the Broadway version, he played the singer in the nightclub, and on that cast CD, he is a terrible singer. For the movie, somehow he was promoted to one of the leads, and his singing was not dubbed. I think his acting is just OK, but his singing STINKS, and for me, ruined the 2 songs "Sunday" and my favorite "Don't Marry me." How Richard Rodgers was OK with not dubbing his singing is beyond me.

There are some pretty jazzed up orchestrations, which work well in Grant Avenue and Chop Suey, but some orchestrations are better in the Broadway version (again, "Sunday" and "Don't Marry Me."). The set design and cinematography are excellent, and Rodgers and Hammerstein's score is, in my opinion, up there with their best. Most of the songs from the Broadway version (except one) were left intact and some expanded. Note that Universal gave the makers one of the biggest budgets and it shows in a good way. The sound recording on this soundtrack is superb, making for what will be (I hope) a great DVD.

This is a fantastic movie, sadly unavailable in any widescreen version and no DVD release at all, which is sad considering it became Universal's top grosser when it was released and is the only R&H film that has not been issued on DVD. This was the only Rodgers and Hammerstein movie not produced and released by 20th Century Fox, and I wish it had been because then we would have a DVD.

Highly recommend this movie, just sit back, enjoy some great musical numbers, acting, and a unique and involving story.
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jayraskin15 July 2010
Some Rodgers and Hammerstein movies hold up very well today, like "The King and I," some don't, like "South Pacific." This one belongs in the first category. It is beautifully photographed, has an intriguing story, great acting and very good songs and dances.

I am not sure that people under 40 can appreciate how unique this movie was. Since the 1970's, everybody has seen Kung Fu and Art movies with all Asian casts. However, in 1961, this film was really the first to show Asia-Americans as real human beings with jobs, families, desires and worries. While there is a touch of a patronizing undertone, the film is generally anti-racist. The audience really care about and relate to the characters.

The scene of Nancy Kwan singing to herself in three mirrors wearing a towel is still shocking. It is wrong on so many levels. It is demeaning to both women and Asian-Americans. She is turning herself into an exotic sex toy for men. Yet the scene is equally empowering to women and Asian-Americans. She is embracing her body and her right to be modern and reject stereotypical customs.

The film really is Chop Suey, an American invented dish made up of lots of different foods prepared by Chinese chefs. By the end, what is Chinese and what is American is difficult to tell and that's the brilliance of this dish.
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An under-rated, charming film
Tommy-198614 October 2001
All right, all right. Yes, "Flower Drum Song" is a bit dated, sexist, and even a little stereotypical. The score contains a few great numbers like "Love, Look Away" and "I Enjoy Being a Girl" (In spite of the sexist lyrics, it's a fun song), but overall is not as good as other Rodgers and Hammerstein scores. But there is still much to like and enjoy in this charming film version of R&H's Broadway hit. The cast is great, and includes several veterans of the Broadway show, most notably former Oscar-winner Miyoshi Umecki, who is utterly enchanting as Mei Li, completely rising above the characterization of a placid "picture bride" who just sort of goes with the flow and doesn't question any of her "superiors" (men) with a performance that is sweetly comical and even a little touching at times. Other Broadway veterans Patrick Adiarte (You would never guess he was the same guy who was that annoying Crown Prince in the movie of The King and I) and Juanita Hall (from South Pacific) are likewise great, and Jack Soo is hilarious as the hip, deadpan Sammy Fong. Of the actors chosen just for the film, James Shigeta has a pleasent voice and acting style as Wang Ta, and Benson Fong is good enough in the rather stereotypical role of the stubbornly traditionalist Chinese father. As for Nancy Kwan as Linda Low, she is rather wooden as an actress and must've been an even worse singer (As she was dubbed by BJ Baker), but does a great job dancing in the nightclub sequences. But yes, Pat Suzuki from the Broadway show would've been a much better choice, judging by the original cast recording. Reiko Sato is pretty good as Helen Chao and Marilyn Horne does a beautiful job of dubbing her in "Love, Look Away." Aside from the great cast, the orchestrations are wonderful and better than the Broadway arrangements, and the choreography by Hermes Pan is really, really good. This is one of the more faithful filmizations of a Broadway show, aside from cutting one song (The forgettable "Like a God"), re-ordering a few others and throwing in a few new scenes. And while perhaps Rodgers and Hammerstein couldn't quite bring the depth to this story of Chinese immigrants adjusting to life in San Francisco's Chinatown, they did it with great charm and overall respect. There are many delights in the score such as "A Hundred Million Miracles," the hilarious "Don't Marry Me," "Sunday," "Grant Avenue," and the lovely "You Are Beautiful." Even if these are not on a level with the other R&H scores, they are well-written and memorable. Truly an under-rated film that deserves another look. Right now in Los Angeles, a new revival of the stage version with a completely new book by Asian-American playwright David Henry Hwang is appearing, possibly on its way to Broadway. It makes sense to finally have this story told from a truly Asian-American perspective, and hopefully, though some of Hwang's choices sound a bit odd, (Putting in something about CHinese opera, cutting Sammy Fong and the whole "Other Generation" song and idea, which is pretty crucial to the original, and making Mei Li a refugee from Chinese Communism) hopefully this new version will further allow people to reconsider their view of this show and its film version.
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Just A Great, Fun Musical
crossbow01064 July 2008
You don't even need a review for this film, just watch and enjoy. Based on the Broadawy musical, this film stars what was then a cavalcade of great Asian American actors: The beautiful and talented Nancy Kwan (also star of "The World Of Susie Wong"), James Shigeta, the sweet and so pretty Miyoshi Umeki (she just left us. Rest in peace, Ms. Umeki) and Jack Soo (who can forget his great comic turn as Nick on "Barney Miller". He was integral to the show until he unfortunately passed fairly young). The story is simple, about a picture bride (Ms. Umeki), who enters the United States to marry Sammy Fong (Mr. Soo). He'd rather be with Nancy Kwan, so he arranges for Mr. Shigeta to meet her. Throughout, they all sing, and they sound wonderful. You want everyone to be happy in this film. To hear Ms. Umeki sing "One Hundred Million Miracles" is just sublime. This film was a high water mark for Asian American actors, and you get the feeling that the United States film industry really missed the mark in not furthering the careers of any of these great actors. I feel bad for that, but at least we have this great, fun, sweet and lavish musical. Its an absolute joy to watch.
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Frothy and Enjoyable Minor R&H Musical
evanston_dad24 October 2006
Popular consensus holds that "Flower Drum Song" is a weak link in the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon, and that's mostly true. It doesn't have as important a story to tell, and since it's not a period piece it's the most badly dated. And certainly, in cinematic terms alone, the film version is one of the worst of the stage-to-screen R&H adaptations.

But all of that aside, there's something about this film that utterly charms me. A great deal of that charm resides in Nancy Kwan, who looks sexy and gorgeous in this and played a large role in many an adolescent fantasy as a result of her appearance in this film. But beyond her, there's much to like about the movie. It tells a sweet, simple story that may not be profound, but is certainly harmless enough. The score, while not R&H's best, is still full of enjoyable and hummable tunes. And there are a couple of truly memorable production numbers, like the "Sunday" sequence, or the lengthy and trippy ballet in the middle of the film, that stops the show even if it feels somewhat out of place.

All in all, you could do much worse.

Grade: B
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Far more important than "West Side Story"
HotToastyRag29 March 2022
Flower Drum Song is an absolute gem of a musical, and I can't believe it took me so long to see it for the first time. The big-budget musical of 1961, West Side Story, took over all the publicity and memorability, so hardly anyone remembers that another "ethnic" musical was released during the same year. However, unlike West Side Story, no one had to apply dark makeup to their skin. Yes, the majority of the cast was Japanese instead of Chinese, but there was no "white-washing" of early Hollywood to be found in the movie. No eyelids were taped and no offensive accents were adopted. As a member of the board for the Hot Toasty Rag Awards, I felt Flower Drum Song was an important movie for its time. Hollywood took a chance on a movie without a single white actor in the cast, and that chance was rewarded. It took in nearly $11 million at the box office!

Politics and culture aside, this romantic story is very sweet. The endlessly endearing Miyoshi Umeki stars as a mail-order bride who sneaks into America illegally with her father, Kam Tong. While her future mother-in-law is glad to see her, her fiancé, Jack Soo, isn't. He's a successful nightclub owner and is in love with his top fan dancing girl, the beautiful Nancy Kwan. When Miyoshi meets James Shigeta, it's love at first sight - but his head has already been turned by Nancy as well! How will the love triangles and bad timing turn out? Since it's a musical comedy, you can rest assured that nothing too terrible will happen and watch it with an easy heart.

I love the culture clash of the old Chinese world and modern America. You can see it in many characters, from James's desire to please his traditional father while he's drawn to a totally modern girl, to Jack's constant lying to his mother so she doesn't find out he's been Americanized. Even Miyoshi, who is as old world as they come, gets seduced by a padded bra sewn into her dress. Nancy, as modern as they come, wants to marry into a wealthy, respectable family. With such great dichotomies, it's easy to root for and get absorbed in the characters. "The Other Generation", one of the first songs, is very ironic and still relevant today.

Most of the songs are upbeat, sweet, and catchy, but for those who crave a little drama in their musicals, the character of Helen (played by Reiko Sato) sings "Love Look Away" and dances a sorrowful ballet about her unrequited crush. I come from a musical background, and performing can be found far back on my family tree. Although my mother sings opera around the house and I've acted in such dramas as Into the Woods and Les Miserables, my favorites are musical comedies. I love to laugh and I love cute songs that make me smile. Flower Drum Song is my second-favorite musical of all time, and I often watch it on my birthday!

If you haven't seen this adorable light musical yet, don't dismiss it for the sole reason that it's not as famous as West Side Story. In my opinion, it's much better. Set in San Francisco's Chinatown (with an entire production number of "Grant Avenue" during Chinese New Year), it's a great celebration of a culture Hollywood rarely takes a chance on.
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A Beautiful Set of Relationships; a Most Moving Musical Experience
silverscreen88823 November 2007
The authenticity of "Flower Drum Song" stems, I assert, from C.Y. Lee's clever blending of Eastern and 1960s San Francisco U.S. cultural elements. In the attempt to transfer the ethereal charm of Rodgers' and Hammerstein's' musical play made from the Lee's book to the screen, the difficult obviously lay in not losing the intimacy, the almost magical details, the subtlety and humor of the musical; but at the same time it was necessary for the filmmakers, Director Henry Koster and screenwriter Joseph Fields, to "open out" what on stage had been suggested. Fields and Ross Hunter produced; and Edward Muhl of Universal made a largely successful attempt here to create an MGM style musical at his smaller studio. So many moments, numbers, physical gestures, actions, dialogs and dance numbers work very well in the film that it is hard to quarrel with the adapters' approach; the occasional sluggishness in the film, which is undoubtedly present, I suggest is due to the very real nature of what people and doing in their relationships; realism takes longer, but ultimately here, as usual, it produces a very memorable set of characters and a beautiful experience. The cast is headed by talented Jack Soo, portraying what someone has called a "Nathan Detroit" like figure; his brilliant characterization is matched by James Shigeta's as a nice but callow young student 'prince' of San Francisco's Chinatown and Miyoshi Umecki's as elfin Mei Li, the brave 'picture bride" who sneaks into the country with her father, Kam Tong, in order not to have to wait five more years to be allowed in on a quota so she can get married. Nancy Kwan as the girl whom Soo loves and who pursues Shigeta is brassy, dynamic but not quite right in her pivotal role. Others in the very well-trained cast of underemployed Oriental professionals include powerful Benson Fong, playing above his age as Shigeta's very Chinese father, charming Juanita Hall as his wisecracking sister-in-law, dancer Reiko Sato as the tragic Helen, lithe dancer Patrick Adiarte as Fong's Americanized number two son, plus Victor Sen- Yung, Madame Soo Yong, James Hong and many others. The film is also notable for Irene Sharaff's costumes, bright cinematography by Russell Mettey, inspired art direction by Alexander Golitzen and Joseph C. Wright plus unusually elaborate and difficult set decorations by Howard Bristol. Dong Kingman provided the atmospheric paintings used in the credits, and Hermes Pan was responsible for the choreographing of a series of small, medium and large-scale dance numbers including the unforgettable "Love Look Away" dream ballet, which comes after a wonderful rendition of this lovely song by Marilyn Horne. This is a woman's musical, with its emphasis on relationships, monitorings of behaviors, and the many females in the cast who are presented more powerfully than are the males. But it is surprisingly even in its pacing, and only diffuses its power a little to accommodate the many characters within its cast plus a Chinatown parade, a graduation party, a large wedding and several numbers at the Celestial Gardens Nightclub. Memorable songs include, "Sunday,", "Don't Marry Me", "Chop Suey", "The Other Generation", "A Hundred Million Miracles" , "You Are Beautiful, ""Fan Tan Fanny", I Enjoy Being a Girl", "Hliding Through My Memory" and "I Am Going to Like It Here". This I assert is an affecting and unhurried film, but one whose intimate moments work brilliantly, and whose more opulent numbers only slow the pace a little here and there.
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