Sunday, February 24, 2008

Response: Flower Drum Song

I found Flower Drum Song enjoyable in the way most 1960s musicals are enjoyable: humorous and entertaining if you look past the implicit racism and sexism. Throughout the movie I felt conflicted. While I found it gratifying to see a predominantly Asian American cast, I worried that it served to isolate Asian Americans from mainstream America even more, casting them as perpetual foreigners who exist in their own little world apart from the rest of the nation. While I was glad to see that not all the Asian American characters were depicted as being "backward" and "foreign" (indeed, Sammy seemed more an American stereotype ala Guys and Dolls than an Asian American one), I was troubled by the way in which many characters were still overtly exotified (the father refuses to put his money in a bank and even goes so far as to push the alarm to test the bank's security; the father's sister's wife places a rather bizarre-sounding [at least to white American ears] grocery order; many characters still believe in arranged picture marriages; etc.). Furthermore, while I admired Linda Low as the liberated, "new" woman, I chafed at how the liberated woman could only exist in the form of someone who was also both manipulative and gold-digging, and I was frustrated by the way this film reinforced the lotus blossom/dragon lady dichotomy and offered no truly desirable roles for Asian American women to fill. Finally, while I am always a fan of a Hollywood happy ending in which everyone ends up with their true love, I found the romance between Wang Ta and Mei Li exceedingly hard to believe (Why does he so suddenly change his mind about her? Why does she so suddenly forgive him?). Their feelings for each other felt contrived, and I think this served to somewhat alienate them from the viewer. As such, while Flower Drum Song represents a huge step forward from Broken Blossoms, it is still in many ways inherently problematic and needs to be questioned and examined.

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