A Review of the Movie Flower Drum Song
“A hundred million miracles are happening every day.”
That’s the opening song in the movie, Flower Drum Song, and the theme that sparkles throughout the entire musical. Flower Drum Song is also the story of cultures on collision courses with each other – East vs. West, traditional vs. modern, elegance vs. tawdriness, classical music vs. rock ‘n roll – and the resolution of those cultural conflicts is the real miracle.
Mei Li and her father arrive in San Francisco as stowaways on a ship from Hong Kong. She is a “picture bride,” contracted by Mrs. Fong to marry her son, Sammy. Sammy has other ideas, however, and persuades Madame Liang to introduce Mei Li to her brother-in-law Mr. Wang as a potential bride for the son of the house, Ta.
Mr. Wang is a very traditional Chinese man, a widower raising his two boys with the help of his wife’s sister. Ta, the elder son, is about to graduate from college and plans to attend law school. The younger son, San, speaks American slang and loves baseball and rock ‘n roll. When a girlfriend observes that Mr. Wang “sounds very Chinese,” Ta explains:
“He is. Completely Chinese. And that’s good. It’s good for my brother, ‘cause he’s completely American. And I’m both and sometimes the American half shocks the Oriental half and sometimes the Oriental half keeps me from showing a girl what’s really on my mind.”
The Wang home appears very traditional, with a peaceful garden and gorgeous Chinese furniture and art. The contrast with the busy streets of Chinatown and Sammy Fong’s exuberant and slightly risqué nightclub is palpable. But inside the home, the famous Generation Gap of the 50’s and 60’s makes it appearance. “What are we going to do about the other generation?” sings Mr. Wang in exasperation? Meanwhile, San asks the same question out in the garden.
Mr. Wang wants to choose a bride for Ta, who tells him,
“This is not China. This is a different world. And here a man has the right to choose his own wife.“
“When that day come when you can think for yourself, I will let you know”
snaps his father.
There’s a big divide between the nightclub culture and the Wang family as well.
Sammy’s girlfriend Linda, the headline dancer in the club, is secretly dating Ta and
Sammy has tried to offload Mei to the Wangs. Sammy makes no attempt to disguise who he is, but Linda acts very demure and polite when she’s with Ta and his family. The two cultures collide dramatically when Sammy invites the Wangs to dinner at the nightclub and Linda performs.
Of course, because it’s a musical, all the conflicts are happily resolved by the end. The right people marry each other and parents are satisfied with their children – at least for the moment. It’s a miracle!