Flower Drum Song (1961)

Action, Comedy, Musical, Romance
James Hong, Virginia Ann Lee, Miyoshi Umeki, Virginia Grey
During the potpourri overture and opening credits, oriental figures portray a journey from Hong Kong to San Francisco aboard a cargo ship. When the action begins a young Chinese girl, Mei Li, and her father, Dr. Han Li, peer out a porthole in the ship as they sail into San Francisco harbor. They have stowed away in crates in the cargo hold of the ship. Later after the cargo has been unloaded onto the dock, Mei Li and her father climb out of their crates and wander the streets of San Francisco Mei Li thinks it is a wonderful city and must be a holy place since its named for a saint. They wander into a park, where they ask several people for help to find the address of Madam Fong who has chosen Mei Li as the bride for her son, Sammy. Even though most of the people in the park are Orientals, none of them can read Chinese. The newly arrived illegal immigrants have no money, so Mei Li proposes that she and her father give a show. She will sing a song with the flower drum: "A Hundred Million Miracles." The lyrics sing about miracles occurring every day. During this rendition, she sings about the miracle of changing weather. The gathered crowd rewards their performance with money, but as they are collecting it a policeman asks if they have a license. After explaining that they are looking for the address of Sammy Fong, the policeman escorts them to Sammy's nightclub, the Celestial Gardens. Linda Low and several Celestial Gardens chorus girls perform "Fan Tan Fannie" as the floorshow. During the number Dr. Li, Mei Li and the policeman enter. The policeman asks to speak to Sammy. When this totally assimilated hipster arrives, he tells the officer that these are the folks he has been looking for and recognizes a photo of Mei Li that his mother had shown him. Sammy's mother is insisting on his union with a traditional Chinese girl in an arranged marriage. In the club's kitchen, Sammy feeds the starving immigrants. Mei Li likes American cooking, but Sammy is insulted; he contends his club serves the best Chinese cooking in the bay area. Dr. Li asks Sammy if he intends to honor his marriage proposal. Linda, Sammy's long-time girlfriend, comes into the room just in time to overhear this question. She furiously stalks out of the room. Sammy goes after her and promises Linda he'll unload the Chinese bride the next day. If Linda will understand, he promises to buy her a new convertible. The following day Sammy visits Madam Liang, the sister-in-law of Master Wang, who wants a traditional bride for his son, Wang Ta. Later, Wang Ta describes himself as half American, half Chinese. He is Americanized enough to want to choose his own wife, which is a break with his Chinese heritage. Sammy tells Madam Liang about Mei Li and asks her to show the girl's photograph to her brother-in-law, which she agrees to do. When Madam Liang presents Mei Li's photograph to Master Wang, he is delighted with the girl. Master Wang is very traditional and has been vainly attempting to keep two sons from being seduced by the American life-style. These two elderly Orientals sing "The Other Generation," a song about the gulf between first generation Chinese immigrants and their offspring. Master Wang's youngest son, Wang San, is entirely Americanized. Wearing a baseball uniform, Wang San sings his version of "The Other Generation" to two smaller oriental girls. Wang San and the girls sing and dance to the song, which is about the older generation preaching to them about the old days and the way things were when they were growing up. Wang Ta had asked his father for some money, so Wang Chi-Yang takes $100 from a chest under his bed to take to the bank to get change (Master Wang doesn't trust banks). As Master Wang is returning from the bank, openly counting his money, a man robs him. Later, Madam Liang forces her brother-in-law to open a bank account. Shortly after this incident, Sammy arrives with Mei Li for Master Wang to inspect her. After Master Wang looks her over, she volunteers to sing a flower drum song. In this version of "A Hundred Million Miracles," Mei Li sings about the miracle of making music. Master Wang is very impressed and asks Mei Li and her father to stay with him so he can present her to his son. Master Wang is persuaded by his sister-in-law to allow his son and Mei Li to fall in love naturally American style. But, Master Wang will only allow a short period of time before he intervenes. Wang Ta is dazzled by Linda Low's charms. He telephones her and asks her for a date. She agrees to one immediately, but needs twenty minutes to get ready. As she dresses, she sings "I Enjoy Being a Girl." Linda loves everything about being feminine, including her curvy figure, her frilly clothes, and her silken curls. She also loves to receive flowers, to talk for hours on the telephone and even appreciates guys whistling at her when she wears a bikini, although she pretends to be offended. Linda and Ta go for a ride in her new convertible; she tells Ta the car was given to her by her brother, but it was actually purchased by Sammy. During their excursion, Ta asks Linda to wear his fraternity pin (a symbol of going steady), which she agrees to do. She hopes her relationship with Ta will make Sammy jealous enough to propose. When Ta sneaks into his house very late, Mei Li is still awake. She tells him she and her father are guests of his father and that she has come to this country to get married. As Ta retreats to his bedroom, he tells Mei Li, I hope you'll like it here, which the girl misinterprets as his approval of their relationship. She has no idea of his infatuation with Linda Low, so she sings "I Am Going to Like It Here," as she contemplates living with Ta in the Wang household. The next morning as Mei Li delivers Master Wang's breakfast to his bedroom, she is still singing "I Am Going to Like It Here." She informs him that she met his eldest son the previous evening. Helen Chao, an excellent seamstress, brings the graduation gown she has made for Ta and wants to present it to him as a gift (she is obviously in love with Ta, but he doesn't seem to think of her romantically). Ta invites Helen to the party they are having after his graduation. He also mentions that his aunt, Madam Liang, is becoming a U.S. citizen, so they will be celebrating that also. Helen volunteers to make a happy coat for Madam Liang. Linda pressures Ta to get married. She tells him she'll bring her brother to the graduation party to settle the details. Master Wang presents Mei Li with a beautiful American gown to wear to the party. When she models it, Ta is very impressed. Mei Li tells him that his brother, San, says he only likes American tomatoes. At the after-graduation party, Madam Liang is presented an award as the best student in her citizenship class. In honor of the occasion, she sings "Chop Suey," in which she compares living in the U.S. to the Chinese dish invented by Americans. The song is primarily a catalog of Fifties famous personalities and fads. To her, American society, like Chop Suey, is a melting pot. A dance involving many of the party guests follows. The dance too is a mixture of dance styles including a line dance, a Twenties-style Charleston, rock 'n' roll and jazz. Linda and her Sea Captain-brother arrive at the party (actually the comic from the Celestial Gardens is posing as her brother). When Linda's brother mentions Ta's proposal of marriage to Master Wang, the elder Wang coughs (he always coughs when things don't go his way). Mei Li overhears their conversation and becomes upset, but Helen reassures her that Ta isn't really in love with Linda. Mei Li is so upset that she and her father tell Master Wang they must leave, but Master Wang talks Mei Li into giving Ta a little more time. Sammy is also at the party and calls Linda's hand (of course, he recognizes the comic from his club). He tells her he knows she doesn't love Ta. Linda complains that she and Sammy have been together for five years and nothing has happened (meaning no permanent commitment). At the New Year's parade (held on New Year's Eve) we hear an excerpt from John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever." Linda is on one of the parade's floats. She steps off the float to sing "Grant Avenue," a song about one of the principal streets in the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. She sings about the thoroughfare being a western street with eastern manners where visitors can eat shark-fin soup or bean cake fish. Deviously, Sammy invites the Wang family to his club. Master Wang doesn't want to go, but Sammy tells him if he wants to break up his son's romance with Linda, he should be there. Before the New Year's Eve show at the Celestial Gardens, Linda asks Sammy if she can quit that evening, but Sammy talks her into staying for the big New Year's Eve crowd. He asks if Ta had ever seen her act. She tells him no, that's the reason she wants to quit. Master Wang, Madam Liang, Ta, Mei Li and Dr. Li enter the Celestial Gardens and are seated as Sammy's guests. The club announcer, Frankie Wing, the comic who played Linda's brother at the graduation party, performs "Gliding Through My Memory" about all the girls he remembers. The club's show girls are all Orientals, but they portray girls from Ireland, Sweden, England, Spain, France, etc. as Frankie sings. The last lines of the song sing about none of these girls comparing with the girl right here and Linda comes out to perform a fan dance (a mock strip tease; in the original stage version it was more of an actual strip number). When Ta sees Linda's performance, he is shocked. Meanwhile, Sammy is smiling because everything is going as he planned. Towards the end of her dance, Linda opens and closes her fans right in Master Wang's face. He coughs loudly and immediately exits the club, followed by the rest of his party. At the end of the number, Linda dumps a bucket of ice on Sammy's head. Helen, who witnessed what transpired, follows Ta and goes with him to the Ricksha Bar to drink Tiger Bone Wine for the New Year. Early the next morning, we see Helen supporting Ta, who is drunk, as they enter her apartment. Before Ta sleeps off his drunkenness, Helen tells him that Linda has been Sammy's girl for five years. After Ta drifts off to sleep, Helen sings the very beautiful "Love, Look Away" about her unrequited love for Ta. Although she has cared for Ta for a long time, she begs love to leave and set her free. This musical sequence also includes a ballet-type dance that involves Ta and several other dancers. At the end of the number, she slides away from Ta's reach. The next morning, Helen has fixed breakfast for Ta. Before he wakes, Mei Li brings one of Master Wang's coats for Helen to mend. While she is there Mei Li recognizes Ta's coat draped around a kitchen chair. Mei Li jumps to conclusions and leaves horrified. Just after she leaves, Ta awakes, quickly dresses and, certain that his father will be worried, hurries away. When Ta returns home, he apologizes to his father and tells him he was right about Linda Low. Master Wang calls Mei Li, but when she sees Ta, she runs into the garden crying. Ta follows her and tells her he wants to tell her a story. His story evolves into the song "You Are Beautiful." The lyrics tell about a flower boat with singing girls drifting down a stream in the Hwang Ho Valley. One of the girls was a beautiful, small, shy girl. Ta sings that Mei Li is the girl he saw, the girl he heard laugh, as the boat sailed past. He knew that she was the girl he would love some day. During the entire song, Mei Li's eyes are downcast. When the song concludes, she tells him she learned that he wanted another girl not Linda and she tells him about seeing his coat in Helen's apartment. She says her heart hurt so much that she does not love him anymore and she runs inside. A short time later, Mei Li and her father leave Master Wang's house to pursue the marriage contract between Mei Li and Sammy Fong. Back at the club Sammy and some of his buddies are playing poker when his mother and uncle arrive. Linda bursts into the gambling room to complain about the dirty trick Sammy played on the Wang family. Sammy gets his mother and uncle to go on ahead to the family association meeting promising to meet them there soon. After they depart, Sammy tries to sooth Linda's feelings. He tells her he did her a favor and besides he and Linda belong together. And to prove it, he asks her to marry him. She immediately and enthusiastically accepts. They sing about their life of marital bliss in "Sunday." They are looking forward to spending lazy, lovely Sundays together. The song develops into quite a dance that includes a maid, a guest couple, a gardener, a butler on skates, a couple of Sammy's former girlfriends, a beatnik couple and a son dressed in a cowboy outfit. At the family association meeting Dr. Li presents the contract that Madam Fong signed for her son to marry Mei Li. The association pledges that the contract will be honored. Madam Fong is ecstatic and takes Mei Li and her father to her house. Later, Sammy goes to his mother's to tell her he has finally decided to settle down and get married. Of course, he is talking about Linda, but Madam Fong has other ideas. She has already prepared a wedding announcement for the marriage of her son, Samuel Adams Fong to Mei Li, the daughter of Dr. Han Li, former Professor of Philosophy at Peking University. When Linda sees the announcement she is decidedly upset. Sammy tries to convince her that nothing has changed, except his mother expects him to marry Mei Li. One evening at Madam Fong's, Sammy and Mei Li are attempting to get to know each other and to find something in common. Finally, Sammy asks if she would like to see how he spends his evenings. He takes her to a gambling casino where he loses, to a bar where all the girls know him intimately, to a beatnik hangout (the song "Like a God" from the Broadway musical was changed into a beatnik poem for the film version). Early the following morning to further dissuade Mei Li, Sammy sings "Don't Marry Me," in which he itemizes his many faults and the various reasons why he would make a lousy husband. The problem is it's too late; the contract is signed and sealed. Before the wedding, Ta visits Mei Li, and they realize they are deeply in love with one another. They agree to try to come up with an idea that will get Mei Li out of the marriage contract. After Wang Ta leaves, Mei Li watches an old TV western about illegal immigrants called "wet backs." At the wedding ceremony, just before her marriage to Sammy is sealed, Mei Li declares that because she entered the country illegally and her back is wet, the contract is invalid. Ta volunteers to marry Mei Li and Sammy and Linda agree to make it a double wedding.
  • 1961-11-09 Released:
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  • Henry Koster Director:
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