When a young Chinese stowaway shows up in San Francisco’s Chinatown with her elderly father in tow she winds up complicating the lives of everyone she meets in this sparkling Rodgers & Hammerstein musical of romantic misunderstandings and happy endings. Petite Mei Li originally came to meet nightclub owner Sammy Fong for a prearranged marriage masterminded by his mother. But Sammy is already involved with his star performer so he tries to pawn her off to Mr. Wang, a staid businessman looking to pair his increasingly Americanized son with a traditional Chinese wife. His son, meanwhile, is pining away for someone else... Based on the novel (and subsequent stage play) by C. Y. Lee, Flower Drum Song takes a rather lighthearted look at the generation gaps and culture clashes in an immigrant Chinese community circa 1958. From the bright colourful sets to the wonderfully camp songs and lively dance numbers this is one of the more striking widescreen musicals. It also broke a lot of racial barriers for Asian-American actors who were no longer content playing stereotypical roles (never mind that many of the “Chinese” characters here are actually played by Japanese-Americans...and one African-American). Unfortunately the film’s cloying sentimentality has not aged well in the 50 years since its release and what was once considered groundbreaking theatre now seems somewhat bland. Still worth renting if only for the vibrant song and dance routines.

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