By Louis Chan
AsAmNews National Correspondent
I remember being just four, squirming in the back seat of my family’s four-door sedan.
My dad worked as a postal clerk. My mom was a full time homemaker.
We didn’t get to go on a lot of family outings, but my parents did take me to the drive-in theater to see Flower Drum Song, the musical about life in Chinatown adapted to film from a book by CY Lee.
As my bratty self was apt to do in those days, I complained.
‘What’s so good about this?” I said to my parents.
“Don’t you like the singing,” she said.
I quickly fell asleep in the back of the car, much to the relief of my mom and dad who could now enjoy their date night in peace.
Fast forward to my years in college. Like so many Asian American students at the time, I looked at Flower Drum Song with disdain. It played up all that Whites considered exotic about San Francisco’s Chinatown, romanticized the struggles of growing up Chinese in America and glossed over the poverty so prevalent in the community.
Today, CY Lee is 99. I read with interest his interview in the Los Angeles Times.
He’s apparently still active, working on a manuscript , an English translation of a book of stories written about the San Gabriel Valley where he now resides.
Lee is aware of the criticism Flower Drum Song received from within his own Asian American community. He acknowledges he intentionally played up the exotic–the nightclub dancers, the “smoked duck feet steamed with pork” and “medicine pig tail soup.”
“I wrote that novel totally for an American audience,” Lee says. ” They don’t want to read about things they know already.”
In 1961, Flower Drum Song became what the Times called the “first major Hollywood studio film about and starring Asian Americans.”
The article made me want to give the movie a second look. I imagine I’d have a different reaction than I had as a whiny 4-year-old.
I suspect even my dismissive attitude about the movie I carried through my college years would change.
What are your memories of Flower Drum Song?
Do you see the movie as advancing Asian Americans into the mainstream or stereotyping the community as outsiders and un-American?
Read the article in the Los Angeles Times and learn about playwright David Henry Hwang’s thoughts on the movie.