I was very intrigued by the film Flower Drum Song because I hadn’t seen a practically all-Asian cast musical before. I though the film presented a very interesting dichotomy between the two stereotypes of the Asian woman. In Laura Hyun-Yi Kang’s article “The Desiring of Asian Female Bodies: Interracial Romance and Cinematic Subjection,” Kang cites filmmaker Renee Tajima who argues that there are two basic types of Asian women representations. According to Tajima, there is “the Lotus Blossom baby (a.k.a. China Doll, Geisha Girl, shy Polynesian beauty), and the Dragon Lady (Fu Manchu’s various female relations, prostitutes, devious madams)” (Kang 77). Flower Drum Song continues to perpetuate these dual stereotypes in its portrayal of female Asian characters in the film.
The film focuses on the life of Mei Li, an illegal Chinese immigrant brought to San Francisco by her father in order to be married off to a stranger. Mei Li follows the stereotype of the shy, submissive, and virtuous daughter, the “China doll,” even as she is forced into marrying a man she does not love. In one scene, she is inspected by her potential father-in-law, Master Wang, who makes her stand on a table to be inspected, almost like she was a show dog at the Westminster Dog Show. Master Wang makes her open her mouth and inspects her whole body while Mei Li passively participates. Her father even says that she is “strong as an ox” to which Mei Li replies, “Thank you father.” While throughout most of the film, Mei Li prescribes to this submissive stereotype, she finds a way to marry the man she loves, although she does it in a way that does not dishonor her father. So although it appears that she is standing up for her beliefs and is bucking the stereotype of the passive daughter, in the end she continues to follow the quiet doll-like role, although at least she can use her brains to her benefit.
Meanwhile, Linda is presented as the opposite as Mei Li and instead is presented as more similarly to the stereotypical “Dragon Lady.” Linda is willing to manipulate Ta and trick him into offering to marry her—all with the ultimate purpose of her making Sammy jealous. Linda’s risqué dance numbers and dirty comments further demonstrate her devious and scheming behaviors as she also lies to everyone about her so-called brother.
Although I was happy to see a film in which Asian people are given star roles (or in this case, the cast of the entire film), I was still upset to see the same stereotypes of Asian women still presented to the audiences, further perpetuating them even more.