In watching the Flower Drum Song and Enter the Dragon, I sensed that the writers and directors wanted the films to push the frontier of Asian-American identity, but at times it felt like they were uttering the stereotypes. Despite some of the attempts to develop the character with dialogue, I became distracted by the colors in the scene and the appearance of the characters.
The male characters of both films became hostages to their own body. In Enter the Dragon, Lee was unable to develop much of a personality beyond kicking butt. Lee’s amazing ability to kick and fist faster than many can blink outshines all other aspects of his character. I felt the anger brewing to kill his sister’s murderer, but all other emotions are lost behind the lack of dialogue and fast movements. In the Flower Drum Song, Sammy embodied a more mischievous male identity. As the manager of a nightclub/restaurant who wanted to expose his girlfriend during her striptease, he was illustrated as ruthless. This definitely doesn’t help the stereotype that Asian males are domineering and put women in a submissive role.
Sexual identity was mainly given to Asian females within both films. In Flower Drum Song, the sexuality of women seemed to be closely tied to politics. Mei Li’s citizenship status paralleled her sexual identity. Like her illegal immigrant status sprinkled with inassimilable traits, she was painted as cute and not quite sexy – citizenship and sexuality were illustrated as immature. She was the “socially and politically underdeveloped” version if Linda. Ideas of citizenship surround the development of Linda’s “exotic” image. Linda’s mannerism, clothes, and speech differed greatly from Mei Li. Linda was the assertive sex kitten that possessed Western and Asian features. Mei Li was portrayed as submissive and not in control of her sexuality unlike her “Americanized” counterpart. In trying to illustrate the relationship of two cultures, the film reduced the status of one – Mei Li’s. In Enter the Dragon, women also came in two flavors: submissive or exotic. Lee’s sister could have been seen as assertive by taking her own life before acquisition of the white man or submissive by allowing him to take her. Han’s daughters and women’s minimal speech inhibited the characters to affirm their identities from being just “exotic.”
Despite some of the negative assumptions made by the filmmakers (or the audience), these films were ground breaking for their time. These films premiered mainly Asian casts during a time when there were few Asian actors/actresses on screen. Controversy surrounding immigration, tradition, and language were being previewed, although it is not completely developed and at times might have hurt those the filmmakers were trying to defend.