Having seen “Sound of Music” and “King and I,” I’m not exactly sure what I expected for an Asian Rodger and Hammerstein musical; I would describe “Flour Drum Song” as a frightening mix of Asian stereotypes, music, and dancing. I wasn’t sure if the use of language like “my father” and “my son” and descriptions of Mei Lee as having “skin like white jade” and being “built like a Ming vase” were intended to be humor or if it was supposed to be a somewhat realistic depiction of Asian Americans. I also found myself laughing a lot at the contrast between the on/off use of the Chinese accents by the un-Americanized characters like Mei Lee (“lotus blossom”) juxtaposed against the fluent English characters such as Linda Low (“dragon lady”). In the opening scene Mei Lee sings the song “One Hundred Million Miracles” (the theme song of the movie) but for me the disappearance of FOB Mei Lee’s faux accent once she started singing was the biggest miracle of all. I guess presenting an all Asian American cast was a miracle too.
Despite the offensive content throughout the movie, there are some truths in the father’s struggle to keep his two sons from becoming too Americanized. The character of the younger brother was intended to serve as comic relief with his use of American slang, yet I felt able to relate to the conflicts that Wang Chi-Yang’s sons have with their father. Phoebe Eng also writes about this conflict between children of Asian American parents in “Warrior Lessons;” the feeling of guilt and tension that accompanies going against our parent’s wishes. Madame Liang (Wang Chi-Yang’s sister in law) also plays an interesting role in the film. Constantly correcting Wang Chi-Yang about American culture, she draws attention to places where the Chinese and American culture clash. Even within the ridiculousness of this movie, there are some honest themes that relate to the experience of Asian American immigrants in the