Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A Nervous Virgin On Her Wedding Night... and Flower Drum Song

All that stuff about Tivo? Overreacting. As the title implies, I had a little case of the wedding night jitters. Now that I've had Tivo for a few days, I can see it's not a problem. The key is to think of it as a filter--the shows it picks up are for you to choose from, not something you have to watch. The fact that I've gotten nothing done in the past two days is simply an unhappy coincidence.

Thanks to Tivo, I caught all two and a half hours of Flower Drum Song, the film based on the bizarre Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about Chinese people in San Francisco. This is the movie that Tom and I caught some of when we were at Boback's apartment one time. I don't remember who else was there, but it was really weird to see a movie from the '60s that was all about Asian people.

So, Flower Drum Song? Not a great show. There are two excellent songs, "I Enjoy Being a Girl" and "Don't Marry Me." These songs are peppy and witty and fun. The rest are mostly a bore. Some of the characters are great fun, but the story often makes little sense and goes on too long. But movies about Asian Americans are few and far between, Joy Luck Club and Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle notwithstanding, so you take what you can get.

The story goes: A couple of F.O.B.s, an old father and his grown daughter, who can play "flower drum songs" on her drum with a flower on it, enter the U.S. illegally by stowing away on a cargo ship from Hong Kong. The Chinese dockworkers have a brief exchange, in Chinese, as to whether they heard grunts coming from the stowaways' crates. Soon we meet the immigrants, who, unlike the dockworkers, speak to each other in pretty good, if heavily accented, English. They have no money so the girl performs a slow, boring "flower drum song" called "A Hundred Million Miracles" to the delight of a Chinatown crowd. A Chinese-American policeman, speaking refreshingly unaccented, perfect English, hassles them for begging without a license (what test do you have to pass before they issue you that license?), but they get him to direct them to the guy they've arrived to see.

That guy turns out to be Sammy, a cool, funny-looking Chinese-American nightclub owner who speaks in the bada-bing-bada-boom ring-a-ding-ding rhythms of any good nightclub owner--kind of a Chinese Rodney Dangerfield. Turns out the FOB girl came so that she could marry Sammy, as promised by Sammy's mother. But Sammy's got a girl, the smokin' hot singer at his nightclub (also Chinese--you get the idea. Everyone in this movie is Chinese unless otherwise noted. Of course, they're played by every kind of Asian you can find.). Sammy's girl hears him talking with the FOB girl and gets mad so he buys her a convertible to console her.

Then Sammy pawns off the FOBs on a family which consists of Benson Fong (the Chinese guy, Mr. Wu, from The Love Bug, in top form), his dead wife's sister, and his sons. Fong wants to find a wife for his son, but his son is a player--sorry, I mean "playa"--and not interested. A younger brother wears a little league uniform and talks in hip American slang that the father can't understand. The younger brother is spunky, sassy, full of wisecracks and light on his feet, often taking the spotlight in dance numbers. As the film goes on he seems fruitier and fruitier, especially when he sings a line about wearing a Maidenform bra in "Chop Suey," a grating number that's a pastiche of pop culture references used to suggest that living in America is like a bunch of things mixed together. Yes, how incisive.

The more we see of the FOB girl the more we suspect that she's awfully dim, but it's disguised because you can't tell where the foreigner ends and the retard begins. The sister-in-law forces Benson Fong to let the son fall in love with the FOB himself before forcing the marriage, because that's "love American-style." Benson Fong gives them a week to fall in love American-style.

In a side plot, Fong goes to the bank to break a hundred and gets robbed by a white guy on the way back. The sister-in-law seizes on the incident to force Fong to keep his money at the bank instead of hoarding $100 bills in a box under his bed, even though it was going to the bank, not having the box, which led to the robbery. The parents/grandparents with nothing but hundreds is a familiar thing in Asian families, so this was pretty funny. The stubborn old Chinese man grills the bank on their security, and when they show him the alarm switch, he hits it to test it out, throwing everyone into a panic and finally satisfying him that their security is adequate.

Complications arise when the son starts dating Sammy's girl, who is sick of Sammy not marrying her. The FOB girl is hurt when she finds out, because she loves the son after talking with him once. Sammy invites the family to his nightclub to expose his girl as a trashy lounge singer and break her up with the son. The son is shocked and gets drunk, and stays at the apartment of some seamstress who also loves him.

The FOB finds out about the overnight stay and she gets her feelings hurt again, even though nothing happened except an elaborate dream dance sequence centered on this minor seamstress character whom we never see again.

The son is a nice enough guy and good-looking, but it's never clear why he's so in demand. He must be the only eligible bachelor in Chinatown. Now he's in love with the FOB he barely knows, but she refuses to marry him because she found out he was at the seamstress's place. He doesn't try to explain the misunderstanding, so she leaves.

Now Sammy's mother is forcing Sammy to marry the FOB, even though he finally got off his ass and proposed to his nightclub girl (followed by a song and a fantasy sequence about married life, culminating in a chase through a forced perspective hallway when a monochromatic cowboy and Indian break out of the TV screen and chase them and their houseguests--truly the stuff of fever dreams, though what it's meant to say about married life I don't know.). Powerless to stop his Chinese parents and the elders' marriage "contract," Sammy tries, in song, to convince the FOB that he would be a terrible husband, but she doesn't care.

The son comes to see the FOB and teaches her how to kiss like in the movies, because apparently they don't have kisses on the planet China. Since she's still in love with him and left him for no reason, they realize they have to stop the wedding to Sammy. But how?

Inspired by a movie on TV in which a Mexican girl reveals that she's a wetback (in the process saying the word "wetback" perhaps five times more than necessary), the FOB stops the wedding by announcing that she entered the country illegally and "my back is wet." Somehow this is a problem, which is a little strange because I assumed that was the whole reason she had to get married, but the families claim that marrying her might get Sammy deported. (Maybe if they're legal immigrants but not citizens that's a problem?) The son, though, inexplicably loves her so much he doesn't care about the deportation risk so he offers to marry her instead. And Sammy marries his hot nightclub floozy, who's safe because "she came here the natural way--through her mother." So everyone's happy except the poor lovelorn seamstress who had longed for the son for years--she's left alone in her elaborate fantasy world. But hey, you can't have everything.


Sarah said...

To make sure that filter works properly, use your thumbs-down button on EVERYTHING. Don't just delete stuff from your suggestions- make sure you make it so the Tivo will never think you want to watch a show about quilting ever again. Mine's pretty well-trained, but sometimes it'll throw in something stupid. Also, a good idea is to entirely delete channels off of your lineup, like home shopping channels or channels in languages you don't speak. Oh, and CMT.

Zack said...

I can't believe you wrote all of that, Kenny. I will unfortunately play the gentleman and pass on reading it, because ... because I see this post for what it is. You have written an excruciatingly long post about a televised musical, one that I have never seen and, in fact, hope never to see. You are attempting to assert your blogitorial power over those too weak to not read 18 paragraphs about Flower Drum Song. This is not a blog post. This is blog hazing. This post was intended for the new blogger to read before he streaks through LiveJournal (but after he drinks the cocktail I dipped my balls in).

Tommaso Sciortino said...

I was so entranced by the clip we watched at Bobacks old house (the Gnome village I think) that I rented it and made lisa watch it with me. Sadly, even your synopsys wouldn't have stopped me from doing so becuase it's really difficult to believe they could have made such a lifeless musical with so interesting a premis. Boo. However, there is a wierd facination I have about watching movies set in cities I know. Anchorman's San Diego was awsome. Especially how it seemed to have a mountaintop view of San Diego from located in the middle of the "barely-above-see-leve" coronado island.