Chinese mysticism isn’t a prominent theme in mainstream movies; in fact it isn’t a very common theme in western movies as a whole; but in 1986 2 were released within 5 months of each other. The first, released in July, was John Carpenter’s cult classic Big Trouble In Little China, a kung-fu neo-western that failed to make a splash at the box office and would be considered a huge commercial flop, making back a mere 11 million from a 25 million dollar budget. The second was The Golden Child, released in December, starring Eddie Murphy riding a wave of success after Beverly Hills Cop (1984) became a huge worldwide hit. The Golden Child, unlike Big Trouble In Little China, was a moderate box office success; but throughout the years it would become forgotten by most while Carpenter’s film would go on to become a cult classic that’s still finding audiences to this day. Comparisons between both movies are inescapable: they share as much similarities as they do differences, with actors James Hong, Peter Kwong and Victor Wong appearing in each of them. Furthermore, Carpenter was even attached to direct The Golden Child, but would go on to jump ship from Paramount to 20th Century Fox and speed up production on Big Trouble and beat it to release. It would seem like both companies were in competition with each other and these movies were the product of their rivalry. Regardless of what they have in common, I think they’re both unique in their own right.
The original script for The Golden Child, penned by Species (1995) writer Dennis Feldman was originally supposed to be a darker movie, starring Mel Gibson as the lead. But due to Gibson’s unavailability, Eddie Murphy was given the part and the script was rewritten to suit his comedic sensibilities. He would be joined by Charles Dance and Charlotte Lewis, who would play his Devilish nemesis and love interest respectively.
The plot is simple: Eddie Murphy plays Chandler Jarrell, a private detective who specializes in finding missing children. After the disappearance of The Golden Child – a young monk boy with special magical abilities who was kidnapped by an evil sorcerer – Chandler is the only one who can save him. Chandler was sought out because he’s The Chosen One; at first he thinks it’s all ridiculous, of course – but as the investigation advances he learns that supernatural forces are real and only he can put a stop to the wicked Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance) and his minions.
Reviews weren’t kind to The Golden Child upon its release and it currently holds a 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, suggesting that the majority of critics are joyless morons. However, in a positive review, Roger Ebert praised it for being, ”entertaining from beginning to end.” That sums it up perfectly; The Golden Child won’t have you laughing at loud, but its charm is infectious and it’s so well paced and entertaining you’ll never feel bored. It may not be a particularly ”funny” movie, but it’s a fun one – and it has endless rewatch value, much like its cousin Big Trouble In Little China.
The special effects are dated by modern standards, but that just adds to its charm. They represent a passage of time and era of film that never fails to give me a huge cheesy grin. The 80’s was the pinnacle for action, adventure, comedy, fantasy and horror for me. If it was for you too then it doesn’t get more 80’s than this; from the music to the costumes, the action sequences and humour – this is a blast.
The Golden Child isn’t perfect; comparisons to Big Trouble are inevitable and it doesn’t come close to matching Carpenter’s classic in awesomeness; but that doesn’t mean it’s not a gem in its own right. Do yourself a favour and give it a chance. 7/10.
Eddie Murphy, Charles Dance, Charlotte Lewis, J.L. Reate
Action, Fantasy, Comedy, Horror