Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Love and marriage in Flower Drum Song

The portrayal of the inner workings of Chinatown in the movie Flower Drum Song suggests that Chinatown will always be a source of mystery and endless question marks for white America – or any America besides Asian. For the general American audience, there are some familiar ideas, mostly materialistic symbols – the baseball outfit, the convertible, the nightly show girls – and a well-known American phenomenon known as “falling in love.” A concept purportedly unknown to and deemed useless by mainland Asians, falling in love seems to be a key American concept that shows that American individualism and independence reach far beyond mere lip-service and affect such individual and personal decisions such as how to live one’s life and with whom. However, in the movie, there is a twist to this concept in that marriages in Chinatown seem to be largely presided over by the community “elders” who review marriage contracts and by the parents, who more often than not, have immigrated from mainland China within their lifetimes. Wang Ta asserts his independence at the beginning of the film by saying that this is America and he can choose whom to marry, and he is backed by his aunt who exhibits greater desire and eagerness than her brother-in-law to assimilate and embrace American values. However, it turns out that he ends up falling in love with the very girl – who is undeniably traditional and Chinese - that his father had chosen for him. In this way, both he and his father were right and wrong about how he would choose to marry someone, and this seems to be representative of the Chinese-American way: his father brought in cultural values that he thought and knew to be important in a wife, but he could not force this decision on his son, who had to assert his own independence in deciding to love whom he had been presented with. This sort of interplay between the new and old worlds is well played out in the film, even if there are some very stereotypical character portrayals of Asians and Asian-Americans. 

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