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Friday, 25 October 2013

Classic Film Review: Flower Drum Song (1961)

Flower Drum Song is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's lesser-known musicals. It tells the story of stowaway Mei Li (Miyoshi Umeki) who arrives in San Francisco with her father Doctor Li (Kam Tong) for an arranged marriage to Sammy Fong (Jack Soo). Unfortunately, Sammy is in love with dancer Linda Low (Nancy Kwan). He decides to palm Mei Li off onto his friend Wang Chi-Lang (Benson Fong), who is looking for a bride for his son Wang Ta (James Shigeta). But Wang Ta already has his own crush on Linda Low and the situation gets ever more complicated.

This is a glossy, colourful film that deals with a clash of cultures alongside the actual love story. The luscious opening credits set the scene for a vibrant film and, on that level, it certainly delivers. The songs, however, aren't the best Rogers and Hammerstein ever wrote. The most enduring song within the score is no doubt 'I Enjoy Being a Girl', dubbed here by B.J. Baker for Nancy Kwan, and a couple of others are decent - 'Chop Suey' about the clash of cultures and the amusing 'Don't Marry Me' performed by Miyoshi Umeki and Jack Soo. The song sung by yet another woman in love with Wang Ta, Helen Chao (Reiko Sato, singing dubbed by Marilyn Horne), 'Love, Look Away', is an excellent song of a broken heart. One of my main criticisms about the film is that Helen Chao is the best character and she doesn't get a proper ending.

The central love story of Mei Li and Wang Ta doesn't work for me - I never once thought they should get together. Equally, the amount of dubbed singing in the film irritated me. There are plenty of humorous lines but it doesn't add up to a coherent whole. I don't know if it just translated badly to film, trying to make itself shorter, but the main love story didn't get the energy it should have from the initial set-up. Mei Li sees Wang Ta and immediately loves him - why?

Overall, this is a colourful film with some excellent commentaries on culture clashes and some good comic performances from the likes of Benson Fong and Jack Soo. However, on the basic plot level, it didn't hook me. I really wanted to know what happened to Helen Chao - never a good way to end a film like this.


1 comment:

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This is a glossy, colourful film that deals with a clash of cultures alongside the actual love story. The luscious opening credits set the scene for a vibrant film and, on that level, it certainly delivers. The songs, however, aren't the best Rogers and Hammerstein ever wrote. The most enduring song within the score is no doubt 'I Enjoy Being a Girl', dubbed here by B.J. Arabic Songs Download