Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song

 (1,008)7.02 h 11 min1961NR
In this adaptation of the 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical, Chinese immigrant Mei Li is betrothed to nightclub boss Sammy Fong, but he wants to marry showgirl Linda Low. To get out of the arrangement, Sammy pawns her off to wealthy Master Wang as a fiancée for his son, Wang Ta. Mei Li falls in love with Wang, but he wants to pursue Linda, who uses his affections to test Sammy's love.
Henry Koster
Nancy KwanJack SooJames Shigeta
ComedyArts, Entertainment, and Culture
English [CC]
Audio languages
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Ross Hunter
Ross Hunter Productions
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4.8 out of 5 stars

1008 global ratings

  1. 86% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 9% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 4% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 1% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 0% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

Richard BrennanReviewed in the United States on January 12, 2018
4.0 out of 5 stars
Jazzy R&H Chinatown Musical - Better than you think
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This is a handsome production of a minor Rodgers & Hammerstein musical - their only real musical comedy in the "Guys & Dolls" mold. The plot is a bit creaky - mixed up lovers end up engaged to the wrong people. But the subject is the American immigrant experience with some in the old world, some in the new, and a lost generation caught in between. Though it's set in contemporary (at the time) Chinatown in San Francisco, the struggle has been faced by Polish, Jewish, Irish, and every nationality to arrive here.

In order to enjoy this you have to excuse some poor motivation for the lovers and a few jokes that seem to parade orientals around for the amusement of white folks. (What can you do? It reflects the 1950s when it was written.) On the other hand, it's a big Hollywood studio film that is cast almost completely by Asian actors. (Don't forget, this was the same year that Mickey Rooney was playing Chinese in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and George Chakiris won an Oscar for playing Puerto Rican in "West Side Story".) So that is something.

And what a cast! I wouldn't change a single one. Jack Soo and Nancy Kwan are the night club owner and his star attraction - both might be seen as oriental to white people, but they are as American and modern as Dean Martin and Marilyn Monroe. But the core of the piece is Miyoshi Umeki as Mei Li, the wide-eyed mail order bride and James Shigeta as Wang Ta - the first born son of a prominent Chinese American family who is trapped between his traditional father and the new country he has been raised in. Shigeta has movie star looks and personality which makes him the believable love object of three women. And Miyoshi Umeki is the heart of the story - she lets us inside this optimistic and naive girl who believes all the American promises she has heard.

The reason the film endures is a combination of the quality of the actors, the first rate costume and set design, and those R&H songs. If the film seems to dip at times during the dialog, the songs pick it back up. The dream ballet to "Love Look Away" may be giving us 10 minutes with a minor character we don't care all that much about - but the song is one of the team's most beautiful and the scoring by Alfred Newman is spectacular. Ditto for "Sunday" - a fantasy of married American life, and the comic "Don't Marry Me" - a witty anti-love song Jack Soo gets as he tries to shed an unwanted lover.

Is it "Oklahoma!" or "Sound of Music"? No. But it's also not a silly cheap film out to make a quick buck. It's a charming romantic comedy that's trying to take audiences to a community they might not normally get a glimpse into and expand storytelling beyond the white majority. I think that makes it worth a look.
67 people found this helpful
Blee1Reviewed in the United States on January 12, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
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What can you say about a 1960's Hollywood view of San Francisco's Chinatown and the intergenerational issues of that time. Hate to say this but those issues are pretty similar today, of course without all the singing. Interesting to have some Japanese Americans play major roles in a film dealing with Chinese American culture, but that's Hollywood in the 60's.

If you really know the culture of weddings, a lot of that stuff really doesn't happen. But it's fun to look at and see where my dad's store was with some real parade footage along Grant Street (okay, they call it Grant Avenue and that works better in a song). Overall this is a fun movie and glad that it's on DVD.
20 people found this helpful
ElizReviewed in the United States on January 7, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
Old fashioned romantic musical, old fashioned stereotypes
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The best thing about this is the 'Flower Drum Song', and the actress performing it so beautifully; next would be the funny 'Don't Marry Me' song. The worst is the song and dance number during the parade scene, and the dream sequence dance. This move was made a long time ago and uses stereotypes of Asians and American-Asians that might be considered offensive today. But it is a romantic love story so the characters are portrayed lovingly if unrealistically.
14 people found this helpful
Ronda SwolleyReviewed in the United States on August 10, 2016
5.0 out of 5 stars
if you like musicals, this is a must see
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If you like musicals and have never seen this movie - it is a must. Songs, choreography, acting, love story - huge cast with very strong actors and actresses in the same vein as the big production musicals Rodgers and Hammerstein are almost always associated with.
This movie presents several transitions in the plot: youth into adulthood, old world into new world (Chinese into American), dependency into independence. Also central to the story are many dichotomies: young/old, male/female, traditional thinking/modernization, honorable behavior/not so much so.
Add to all that - it is a great comedic production, drawing on script and choreography both to create a humorous backdrop for the multiple opportunities for verbal, physical, and situational humor to thread through the entire movie. Very family friendly.
One of my favorite musicals.
18 people found this helpful
CharmingReviewed in the United States on September 20, 2017
5.0 out of 5 stars
Flower Drum Song
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This is a half century old musical movie of the 1960's. A father and daughter hid themselves in two big wooden containers in a cargo ship. They illegally entered in U.S. Where? Chinatown, San Francisco CA. They had a mail-bride schedule with Sam, a middle-man. His local night club was well-known. His business served food and drink, dancing and musical show.

The love story began with Sam's family and business connections. Reality and Twists threw in. I am here skipping the details in order not to spoil the fun. A happy ending for lovers. Very entertaining. Go buy it.
10 people found this helpful
D. DoyleReviewed in the United States on September 8, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
A delightful romp through a bygone era of cultural naivete.
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The first thing that struck me about this film was not the stereotypical depictions of "Oriental" art in the opening credits (or what the producers and writers assumed as such). It wasn't the tone of the music with the usual minor-key so often attributed by white composers to cast an Eastern feeling. It was the fact that, in 1961, the producers took what must have been a rather extraordinary step at the time to cast a motion picture where every major and minor character was not only Asian, but was a protagonist, antagonist, chorus member or otherwise important part of the story, rather than a domestic or a laundry worker.

The story is simple enough, and perhaps based on what may or may not have been a culturally correct premise, but the characters are real, complex, lovable and believable. There may be some voice-overs in a couple of the singing scenes, but the superb talent of the dancers in this film is awe inspiring! Absolutely top notch performances which could easily compete with their contemporaries in West Side Story, which was released in the same year.

Overall, this was an enjoyable love note to audiences at a time when such characters were not often portrayed in an egalitarian way. I loved it.
3 people found this helpful
Living SimplyReviewed in the United States on February 12, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
Politically-incorrect but fantastic acting and dancing
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I feel badly to give five stars to a movie that ended up being a zero vehicle for most of the actors.

This is vintage musical America, complete with keeping actors of non-white extraction from proper roles and salaries - hopefully they didn't have to use non-whites' bathrooms in-between scenes.

Some great actors did get to be a part of later TV and movie productions, some of my favorites while growing up. Interesting bios - please research. Teaches us we need better education from Kindergarten-on in America.

The movie itself, however, is sweet, and showcases some amazing acting and dancing - and fairly-fun and sometimes amazingly-dramatic music pieces.

Think "Oklahoma" - unrealistic, but the way we enjoy daydreaming.
5 people found this helpful
DogsNBooksReviewed in the United States on October 2, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
A Poignant Song of Life and Love
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I was 11 when Flower Drum Song came out, and I loved it - all these years, I sing "I Enjoy Being a Girl" to my dog when I bathe her. Watching it again, I keep humming the songs.
It's such a wonderful film - I prefer the story line in it to the book - the introduction of Jack Soo's character and his interaction with Miyoshi Umeki are so joyful. The generation gap scenes are true whatever age or ethnicity you are.
Sometimes you have to put aside your feelings about politics, feminism, etc. and just want to be entertained. Watch James Shigeta singing "You Are Beautiful" and fall in love with him all over again!
I wonder, though, if Rodgers and Hammerstein knew that a flower boat was a floating bordello...
But please read the book -
I was 15 in 1965 when I first read The Flower Drum Song after seeing the movie. I remember feeling shattered at Helen's death. Having recently watched the movie on DVD, I decided to again read it.
Unlike the film, May Li and her father don't appear until the middle of the book. But she is not a sweet little lotus blossom - she stands up for her rights the first time she speaks.
Following Old Master Wang Chi-yang walks through San Francisco's Chinatown, I thought of my own walk there many years ago.
But his reactions to life in a new country and the changing world around him made me think of my own great uncle who emigrated alone from Italy as a young man and who saw so many changes in his 106 years. I also thought of so many immigrants today facing strange things every day.
Wang Ta's friend Chang, a character not in the movie, at one point suggests he take up bowling:
"It's good for mental health...If you get into an argument with your employer and have to accept defeat for the sake of your job, you can always go to a bowling alley and let off your steam by smashing the pins and imagining they are your boss and his family, including his mother-in-law."
There is so much joy, sadness, laughter, guilt, decisions to make (or avoid making) - I don't want to wait 50 years before reading this book again. I want to pick it up and read it again now.
Whether you loved the movie or hated it, you will love the book!
One person found this helpful
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