Before I begin to critique the Rogers & Hammerstein musical (for the record, I hate this movie), let me praise the film for featuring an all Asian American cast (Hi, Juanita Hall. What did you say? Really? So you’re not Asian American? Sorry about that). Jokes aside (because really, Juanita Hall was really fantastic as the aunt, Madame Liang), such casting is hardly ever seen today whether in film, theater, or television (Sorry Margaret Cho about your show…). I also want to point out that the lack of Asian Americans in mainstream culture is not limited to entertainment but also subjects that are supposed to be factual. For example, I was watching Anatomy of Sex on the Discovery Channel and besides being heteronormative, the only Asian/Asian American that appeared was the waiter in the Chinese restaurant (for about 3 seconds). With this example in mind, Flower Drum Song in its casting was pushing the cultural norms. This cannot be underplayed (especially when compared to, say, the other
Now, let me say that I have not experienced such cognitive dissonance than while watching Flower Drum Song. Firstly, who was the protagonist of the movie? Mei Li? Linda Low? Plot Device, er, I mean Helen? Wang Ta? His Venerable, Honorable Father/Madame Liang’s Brother-in Law? What I am trying to say is that women in the film are used as vehicles to examine (read: shove down our throats) assimilation. Perhaps Laura Hyun-Yi Kang’s “The Desiring of Asian Female Bodies: Interracial Romance and Cinematic Subjection” could be expanded to show that not only does the white male go through a transformation while pushing racial/gender/class issues raised but not examined to the background but that the female body is also used to propagandize a certain kind of assimilation: American dressed in Chinese clothing. For example, the New Year celebrated in
Additionally, despite insinuating that the Flower Drum Song is an ancient Chinese song and dance, the music for “A Hundred Million Miracles” was clearly not Asian, not even a little chinoiserie. And while on the subject of Mei Li, she embodies every characteristic of the Lotus Blossom stereotype.
I am, however, aware that this film is an adaptation of the Broadway adaptation of the novel. In all honesty, I think something got lost in translation.
Lastly, I would like to point out some of the film’s failures as a movie-musical. It is far too long (at 2 hr. 11 min) and some of the dance numbers (that really strange dance sequence) was unnecessary.Before I end my response, I also want to say that I wished that film had taken everything to an extreme as to go over the edge and become satire. It seemed that as over-the-top as the movie was, it seemed to be begging to be taken to that next level. In that respect, I was going to do my response from Mei Li's point of view, but I decided a more direct and flippant critique would better serve my purpose.
P.S. Did anyone else find the reference to Connie Chung in Kang's essay on page 78 funny? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiMvXCp2Qvo
Also for your consideration: