In the age of the VCR, old Broadway musicals never close — they just get repriced to sell. And, because of their aura of collectibility, vintage classics sell well. Priced-down tapes of Rodgers and Hammerstein treasures like The Sound of Music and South Pacific have held their ground on the sales charts recently, which raises the question: Will this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a Chinese community, just reissued at an affordable price, follow suit? It seems unlikely, for a number of reasons.
In this stage-hit-turned-mediocre-movie, a Hong Kong picture bride (Miyoshi Umeki) comes to San Francisco’s Chinatown via an arranged marriage but finds herself falling in love ”the American way” with someone else (James Shigeta). Director Henry Koster’s lavish sets are a treat, but the film lags under a flimsy plot and a host of unconvincing characters. Even the music falls flat. The film’s stereotypes — Umeki as a servile lotus blossom, old men with stacks of money under the mattress — don’t help matters either.
Of course, Flower Drum Song does deserve some credit. It showcased Asian-American performers at a time when few were seen in major roles. And after all the casting woes of the upcoming Broadway extravaganza Miss Saigon, Flower Drum Song’s all-Asian cast is a novelty worth viewing — once. But if you’re seeking keepsake quality, this immigrant song and dance misses the boat. C+