It is your DESTINY to join me for another Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia! You cannot deny it! It was on a scroll and everything!
Today’s entry covers one of my favorite movies to quote of all time: 1986’s The Golden Child. Sweet!
Previous entries can be found here. Please note that as with all films covered on the Nostalgia Rewatch, this post will be rife with spoilers for the film.
And now, the post!
So! The Golden Child, boys and girls, was a 1986 Paramount Pictures fantasy comedy film starring Eddie Murphy and half the cast of Big Trouble in Little China, which also came out that year, because in the ’80s there were only like six Asian actors in the entire world, and they all could be from anywhere.
Murphy plays Chandler Jerrell, a P.I. who specializes in finding missing children and wearing funky leather hats. A Tibetan woman named Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis) tells him that he is the Chosen One, destined to rescue and protect the prophesied Golden Child, who has been kidnapped by an evil sorcerer and/or actual demon of hell, depending on how you want to interpret it, played by some guy with no experience whatsoever with playing seriously evil dudes:
Naturally, Jerrell doesn’t believe a word of it all, and wacky violent hijinks ensue.
LIZ: The most amazing thing about this movie is that we were actually allowed to watch it as kids.
ME: Well, it was released in 1986, but I think it was 1987, 1988 by the time it came on TV? Maybe even later. So I think by then Mom had started to loosen up on things a little.
LIZ: Okay, but:
LIZ: This is the first joke of the film. I’m just saying.
Concurrently, I suppose I should warn you (if a bit too late) that The Golden Child is, shall we say, a wee bit saltier in the language department than most of the other films we’ve covered so far on the MRGN. Not to mention its blithe depictions of (among other things) murder, child endangerment, human trafficking, casual sex (OMG!), and of course lots and lots (and lots) of semi-graphic violence.
But then again, it’s an Eddie Murphy film, so I have no idea what else anyone would be expecting.
KATE: …Except for all the millennial kids who only know him from, like, Shrek onwards.
Okay, so if you weren’t around for the 80s, here’s a thing you need to know about Eddie Murphy before he became a family-friendly talking donkey: 80s-era Eddie Murphy was the king of raunch. He was in fact noted for his profane material, in a decade where comedians routinely gained fame for their embrace of shock value vulgarity. 80s-era Eddie Murphy was not family-friendly. Which is probably why we were so gleeful about getting to watch his films. Allure of the forbidden and alla that.
Given that, the lack of any obscenities stronger than “ass” means that The Golden Child qualifies as one of the more demure offerings of his early career, all things considered. It was also one of his lesser successes of the time, compared to films like Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop. Unfortunately, one must suspect that the SF nature of the movie was at least partially responsible for that; as I’ve noted before, science fiction and fantasy did not have nearly the cachet back then as it does nowadays. So I think that, even though The Golden Child was released at the height of his career, it’s not one of the movies most people tend to think of when asked about Eddie Murphy movies in the 80s.
Of course, as usual, the young Butler Sisters cared not a whit for the whims of public opinion, and we adored this movie with cheerful obliviousness as to its wider reception or lack thereof. Because make no mistake: whatever else it is, this is a very funny movie. In terms of quotability, it is right up there with films like Spaceballs and The Princess Bride in our personal lexicon of “awesome lines from movies we like to randomly yell at each other for LOLZ”.
LIZ: “You better have a spatula where we’re going, ‘cause my ass is frozen to this yak!”
The question is, of course, whether we enjoyed the movie as much today as we did when we were young ‘uns. And… well. Both the good and the bad about this movie is more or less perfectly encapsulated in this clip:
On the one hand, the “scrolls as joints” bit is hilarious, and is still one of our favorite lines of dialogue. The whole movie is filled with similar moments of Murphy charismatically nailing every last joke, making it genuinely entertaining the whole way through.
On the other hand, all three of us let out an involuntary sound of disgust at the invasive and condescending chin chuck Chandler gives Kee at the end of the clip, and that is also indicative of the general level of offensiveness displayed to various groups of people throughout the film—most notably, obviously, to people of South Asian descent and to women.
Basically, The Golden Child is a stellar example of the kind of tone-deaf ignorance of fair representation that was rampant in the 1980s (well, in a lot of decades, but the 80s kinda stands out on that score), but which mostly flew right over the heads of both the (white) people creating it and the (white) people like us watching it. That I can say this about a movie with a black man in the lead role is kind of amazing, but nevertheless it managed it.
Kee Nang’s role this time around bothered me for reasons I had a little trouble identifying at first—beyond the obvious, I mean. Originally I loved her because she kicked ass even though Chandler continually dismissed her as an asset (and even though the movie insisted on objectifying her while she was doing it). And honestly, I still love her for that, but Kee also represents a really specific yet irritatingly common brand of seemingly-progressive-but-actually-sexist portrayals of female characters that, bizarrely enough, no one seems to have named yet. It’s related to The Smurfette Principle (i.e. there is exactly one girl allowed per giant cast of dudes), and to its slightly more evolved modern version (i.e. in which there’s only one girl but she’s really kickass!), but it’s more than that.
And since I can’t find anyone’s else’s name for this trope (even though I’m sure someone has named it somewhere), I’mma gonna coin my own: Kee is a great example of what I think of as the Passed Over For Hero Promotion™ trope.
It can be identified whenever you have a female character about whom you must ask the question: Why, exactly, is this woman not the hero of this movie? And its answer, which is: because she isn’t the Chosen One. Why isn’t she the Chosen One? Because this dude is.
Even though this female character is qualified (and usually overqualified) in every way to do the job of the hero, her role is invariably to stand aside, and instead mentor, assist, and (of course) eventually fall in love with the clueless schmuck who is, inexplicably, the Hero, despite the fact that (especially at the beginning of the movie) he is completely unequal to the job, and she’s been waiting in the wings, brimming with competence and (often) frustrated as hell, since approximately forever.
Other examples of female characters Passed Over For Hero Promotion™ are Trinity in The Matrix, Wildstyle in The Lego Movie, and even Leia in the Star Wars movies. (They’re twins, both equally the offspring of Anakin Skywalker, so why exactly is Luke the Big Damn Hero and Leia the backup version? Well, we know why, don’t we.) And, of course Kee in The Golden Child, who apparently has every last one of the skills, knowledge, and connections to be the Chosen One and rescue the kid, but instead is obliged to go find this oblivious American dude, and drag him kicking and screaming to his destiny, being hit on and condescended to the whole way.
Now don’t get me wrong: I love all of these characters. I love all of these movies! And some of them even explicitly acknowledge the basic unfairness of the situation. But acknowledging the imbalance, while certainly a step up from the movies of yesteryear which didn’t even notice it, is still not actually doing anything to address the situation. So while I heart all my kickass ladies, I can’t help but find this particular pattern a little disheartening.
As to the representation of Asian peoples in this movie, I don’t feel comfortable making any definite assertions on that account, but I have a pretty good feeling that The Golden Child’s score on the sensitivity scale there is probably not terribly high. On the other hand, movies set in Nepal seen by a wide Western audience are pretty thin on the ground (the recent Dr. Strange, which had its own issues with representation, notwithstanding), so maybe that’s a good thing? Dunno. If there are any folks reading this who are more qualified to speak on this matter than me, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
The issue of representation as it applies to Eddie Murphy himself is interesting, as he belonged to a very select group of African-American actors (they’re pretty much all men) who enjoy mainstream Hollywood leading man status—i.e. they regularly starred in movies that appeal across racial demographic lines. This is great, but sometimes ended up imbuing the characters they played with weirdly erasing attributes, or at least so it seems to me. In The Golden Child, for instance, the fact that Chandler Jerrell is black is never once remarked upon or acknowledged in any way for the entire movie. In the 1980s, this counted as racially progressive; nowadays, I think opinion might be a bit more divided. Again, though, I am less qualified to make assertions on this than others might be, so I won’t.
But now on to fun random things!
Liz has officially promised to end me if I do not bring up her absolute favorite moment in the movie when she was a kid:
Aw, he’s playing with Mr. Cabbagehead Henchman! So cute!
(Although, the Golden Child? Not actually a boy! Or not played by a boy, anyway. I was weirdly shocked when I learned this.)
I should mention that Bridget (of Tor.com TPTB awesomeness) commented that she couldn’t eat oatmeal ever again after watching this movie, and I don’t blame her.
LIZ: Ooh! Ooh! That’s Judo Gene!
ME & KATE: …who?
ME & KATE: …’kay.
(Liz and her husband both practice jujitsu and love watching MMA competitions. Kate and I… do not. Also, I have no idea if that Seagal thing is true, but it is hilarious either way.)
KATE: But at least they put in all the totally accurate “whoosh” noises that always happen when you do martial art things in movies!
KATE: He totally spilled some water in this scene.
ME: Okay, if we’re rating this test thing on realism, we have waaaaay bigger problems than whether he spilled the water.
LIZ: True. …Still an awesome scene, though.
ME & KATE: “Ha! I got the knife! Now turn on the goddamn lights!”
Also, I’m not going to embed it but you should watch this scene if you want to see Charles Dance being awesomely evil (and awesome at staying in character despite Eddie Murphy’s best efforts).
So what did we think overall?
LIZ: Well, it was still a pretty great movie—up until the climax.
Yeah. Probably because it featured, well, this:
Unlike Ghostbusters, which (as the commenters on that post were kind enough to remind me) actually sunk quite a bit of its budget into the special effects, the makers of The Golden Child were, uh, pretty obviously cutting a few corners by the end, there. It was bad enough that it came pretty close to killing the movie for us personally.
However, it only came close. Which, as you know, Bob, only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
So, if you can handle some bad Claymation and some wince-worthy stereotypes, in the name of watching Eddie Murphy be really, really funny, The Golden Child is probably still worth your time. If nothing else, this is exactly the kind of movie best enjoyed with friends, booze, and gleeful heckling of the bad bits, in between genuine enjoyment of the good ones.
And thus we end with our Nostalgia Love to Reality Love 1-10 Scale of Awesomeness!
Nostalgia: 8.5 (we will never ever stop quoting this movie…)
Reality: 6 (…so it gets extra credit despite its issues.)
And that’s our show, kids! Before you toddle off, though, a quick note re: scheduling. As you may have noticed, the end of the world the year is nigh, and I will be traveling for most of the holidays. ERGO, the next post, scheduled for Thursday Dec. 22nd, will be the last MRGN post of the year, and we’ll return on January 5th.
But fret not, dear readers, for I have a real treat for y’all for the last post of the year: we will be covering, with great glee, that eternal holiday classic—1988’s Scrooged! Let’s watch Charles Dickens spin in his grave for maximal holiday cheer, yeah? Yeah! Whoo! See you then!