Literature / Flower Drum Song

"A hundred million miracles are happening every day!"

A 1957 novel by C.Y. Lee that was adapted into a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1958. A film adaptation of the musical came out in 1961.

The novel is about Wang Chi-yang, an aging Chinese immigrant to San Francisco, and his trouble assimilating into American culture. The Lighter and Softer musical changes the focus to his son Ta's search for a bride.

The musical begins with Mei Li and her father Dr. Li's illegal arrival to San Francisco. Mei is in an arranged marriage with Sammy Fong, but he is already going steady with a showgirl at his nightclub, Femme Fatale Linda Low. Linda has left Sammy because she is frustrated he won't marry her. Trying to get out of the marriage with Mei, Sammy introduces the new arrivals to Master Wang whose son Ta, a university student, is single. Mei quickly falls for Ta but Ta falls for Linda during a group date. Linda sets her sights on him as her future husband. But then there's a third love interest, Helen Chao, Linda's Girl Next Door friend who is also in love with Ta...

Although not among the most well-known musicals by the song-writing duo, the stage and film productions are notable for having almost all-Asian casts. Flower Drum Song averts many negative tropes associated with Asians in American media during the 50s and 60s, including Mighty Whitey, Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow as seen in another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I; and Yellowface, though not all actors were Chinese or Chinese-American.

Flower Drum Tropes:

  • Adaptational Heroism: In the novel Helen gets Ta drunk and sleeps with him, essentially making her a date rapist. In the film she just goes out drinking with him and he falls asleep on her bed (but nothing happens).
  • Arc Words: "A hundred million miracles..."
  • Arranged Marriage: Why Mei and her father are in America.
  • Asian Airhead: Linda, the Ur-Example. She's a Type A - antagonistic and something of an Alpha Bitch, also functioning as Mei Li's romantic rival.
  • Audience Participation: During "A Hundred Million Miracles", the crowd sometimes supplies back-up for Mei Li.
  • Betty and Veronica: Mei or Helen (Betty) and Linda (Veronica) to Ta.
  • But Liquor Is Quicker: In the novel Helen gets Ta drunk and sleeps with him.
  • Chinese Launderer: The emcee at Sammy's club jokes about being one.
  • Culture Clash: Master Wang gradually becomes more open to the mainstream American lifestyle most of his family members already accept. "The Other Generation" is about the generation gap.
  • Culture Equals Costume: When the family attends dinner at Sammy's restaurant, a tacky floor show trots out various girls of different 'nationalities'. They're all Chinese girls dressed up as Spanish, French, Irish etc.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: "Sunday" became one in the movie.
  • Dragon Lady: Linda is a tamer version than most. She has a manipulative side, pitting Ta and Sammy against each other, and she sure is vampy. Her introduction number "Fan Tan Fannie" almost parodies this.
  • Dream Ballet: Helen dances with Ta in one.
  • Driven to Suicide: Helen in the novel.
  • Drunken Song: Ta sings "Gliding Through my Memories" after drowning his sorrows.
  • French Maid
  • Girl Next Door: Helen in the musical and movie.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Helen pines for Ta even though she has no chance.
  • "I Am" Song: "I Enjoy Being a Girl"
  • The Illegal: Mei and Dr. Li get smuggled in on a ship.
  • The Ingenue: Mei Li, helped by the fact that she's a foreigner.
  • Lady in Red: Helen in her Qipao during the New Year's celebration, though she doesn't fulfill the Femme Fatale role in the film and musical.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: The only time Helen's hair is down is when she has her Dream Ballet with Ta.
  • Lighter and Softer: The musical to the novel.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Mei Li is promised to Ta in marriage, who wants to marry Linda. She is using him to make Sammy jealous. Meanwhile Helen also has a thing for Ta.
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: Pure and wholesome Mei Li is contrasted with vampy Linda.
  • Modesty Towel: Linda during "I Enjoy Being a Girl" in the movie.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Linda spends most of her screen time in skimpy stage costumes or else done up to the nines.
  • Naked in Mink: Evoked in the movie version of "I Enjoy Being A Girl."
  • No Sympathy: When Master Fong is robbed on his own doorstep, Madame Liang gives him an "I told you so" about keeping his money in a bank.
  • Oh, Crap!: Linda has a big one when she realises Ta is in the crowd for her dance. She tries to continue her routine while covering her face.
  • Only Sane Man: Madame Liang spends most of her time delivering firm-hearted truth, or rolling her eyes at the silliness of everyone else.
  • Qipao: Many of the female characters wear a qipao at least once in the movie.
  • Re Tool: The 2002 revival utilized a new libretto, in which Mei Li emigrates to America to escape Communism, and joins a theater troupe run by Master Wong. This version didn't last on Broadway very long.
  • Self-Deprecation: Sammy Fong sings about his flaws to Mei Li in "Don't Marry Me".
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Mei Li dons a western evening gown for a party and gets this reaction from Ta.
  • Solo Duet: In the movie, Linda sings "I Enjoy Being a Girl" along with reflections of herself in a three-way mirror, who come to life and try on different clothes.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Helen Chao is spared in the musical and film due to Rogers & Hammerstein finding the original fate too depressing.
  • Stylistic Suck: the costumes in "Gliding Through my Memories."
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Helen Chao, the girl next door, is a seamstress.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: Mei Li is the Child - her naivety about America endearing her and making her innocent. Helen Chao is the Wife - a down-to-earth girl next door type. Linda Low is the Seductress - the vampiest and most manipulative of the women.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Master Wang ripping his suit coat just to be difficult. Mei Li takes the coat to Hleen Chao to be mended - discovering Ta has spent the night there and setting up a Third-Act Misunderstanding.
  • Visual Pun:
    • During Linda's introduction song "Fan Tan Fannie", she's the only dancer wearing a gold dress. Symbolising how she's a Gold Digger.
    • During "The Other Generation", the children make the See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil gestures.
  • Why Waste a Wedding?: At Sammy's apparent wedding to Mei Li, Linda disguises herself as the bride. Mei Li then reveals that since she entered the United States illegally, any marriage contracts are null and void. Thus Linda marries Sammy instead.
  • Woman in White: Helen in her Dream Ballet.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Mei Li of course. Far from being completely demure, when she discovers that Ta has spent the night with Helen, she calmly tells him she doesn't love him anymore - and still conveys so much pain as she does so.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: One of Linda's acts is a strip tease. Which the Wang family witnesses.
  • Yellowface: Despite having a mostly Asian cast, the film features the Afro-American Juanita Hall in Yellowface to play Madame Liang.