Flower Drum Song
The film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway hit,
Flower Drum Song is a musical comedy set in San Francisco's
Chinatown, concerning old-fashioned Chinese and modern
Chinese-Americans clashing over tradition and trying to find romance.
Mei Li(Miyoshi Umeki), a Hong Kong picture bride, arrives in San
Francisco to meet her husband Sammy Fong(Jack Soo), an Americanized
Chinese night-club owner. However, Sammy is already romantically
involved with the star attraction of his nightclub show, the sultry
singer/dancer Linda Low (Nancy Kwan). He tries to assign his marriage
contract to Wang Ta(James Shigeta), a handsome college student living
in Chinatown. Ta, however, has his sights set on Linda as well, while
Linda's seamstress Helen Chow(Reiko Sato) secretly pines for Ta.
Romantic complications result, but nothing that a little singing and
dancing can't resolve to the satisfaction of nearly everyone. The
film has a great brassy, jazzy score and the best choreography of any
of R&H's musicals. Some of the more memorable songs include I
Enjoy Being a Girl (with Nancy's famous three way mirror scene),
Love, Look Away and Don't Marry Me. The film was
unusual not only for being the first Hollywood production with an
(almost) all-Asian cast, but also for portraying Chinese-Americans as
Americans. James Shigeta is a real heart-throb, Jack Soo has
a hilarious deadpan humor, and Miyoshi Umeki is as sweet as can be.
Nancy Kwan has great fun in the role of the Chinese-American showgirl
with a decidedly modern attitude, and the film is a tremendous
showcase for her dance skills.
Nancy Kwan as Linda Low|
Just as Linda Low was the big star of Sammy Fong's mythical Chinatown
nightclub, so Hong Kong born actress Nancy Kwan was also the big star
of Flower Drum Song.
According to the producer Ross Hunter, "Nancy Kwan is gorgeous. I'm
sold on the glamour approach. After all, if you really want the girl
next door, all you have to do is go over and ring the bell."
Promoted as "that bewitching Suzie Wong Girl", her sassy and brassy
performance as the thoroughly Americanized showgirl was a big change
from that famous earlier film role, and her nightclub dance numbers
were certainly a departure from the classical ballet she had performed
before her big break in Hollywood.
James Shigeta as Wang Ta|
A rare example of an Asian-American romantic leading man, James
Shigeta plays the handsome clean cut fraternity boy Wang Ta, who
competes with Sammy Fong for Linda Low's affections.
As a Hawaiian born American of Japanese descent, James Shigeta studied
drama in New York, but took time off to serve his country in the
U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War.
Moving to Japan, he appeared in four Japanese musicals films and one
of his recordings became the best selling record in Japan.
Upon moving back to the US, he had several more successful recordings
and made dramatic appearances in films such as "Walk Like a Dragon"
and "Bridge to the Sun", prior to his big hit with "Flower Drum Song".
He handles the musicals numbers with his baritone voice especially
Miyoshi Umeki as Mei Li|
Recreating the role she played on the Broadway production of Flower
Drum Song, Miyoshi Umeki starred as Mei Li, the picture bride arriving
for Sammy Fong but destined for Wang Ta.
Born in Hokkaido, Japan, Miyoshi Umeki's career began singing jazz
standards on the U.S. Armed Forces Radio Network in that country. She
made numerous recordings with RCA and had several Japanese film
credits, but her first hit in America was in the 1957 film
Sayonara, which won her an Oscar for best supporting actress.
Her sweet, naive portrayal of Mei Li is affecting but not without a
bit of backbone.
Jack Soo as Sammy Fong|
Jack Soo, a Japanese-American born in San Francisco, got his acting
start as a nightclub emcee and comedian. Born Goro Suzuki, he changed
his stage name during World War II, but resumed work, performing in
clubs throughout the US for several years. His career included a
stint as straight man for comedian Joey Bishop and performances at the
Chinese nightclub Forbidden City in San Francisco. He understudied
the role of Sammy Fong in the Broadway production of Flower Drum Song,
and took over the role in the national touring company. His
performance as the gambling and womanizing operator Sammy Fong shows a
great comic timing and a sly wit that is match for Linda Low's
photos © Universal Pictures/MCA
Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were among the greatest
songwriters of the twentienth century, and America's most innovative
producers of musical theatre.
Both growing up in upper Manhattan, and both attending Columbia
University, they nevertheless pursued their careers on Broadway
Rodgers was noted for his long successful collaboration with Lorenz
Hart whereas Hammerstein earned fame for his work with a variety of
composers, including Jerome Kern, Sigmund Romberg, Vincent Youmans,
and Rudolf Friml.
Their partnership began with the groundbreaking show
Oklahoma!, and continued with musicals such as State
Fair, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and
I, and Cinderella.
Flower Drum Song, their penultimate production, had a popular
run on both Broadway and the West End from 1958 to 1960, prior to its
successful 1961 film adaptation. Their final work together prior to
Oscar Hammerstein's passing would be The Sound of Music.
|Rodgers & |