The Golden Child – Michael Ritchie – 1986

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Michael Ritchie was a brilliant director, helming such classics as Wildcats and Bad News Bears and the Chevy Chase Fletch films, but I honestly feel, all hyperbole aside his most entertaining film is The Golden Child starring Eddie Murphy. Here, genre material gets the kind of treatment you almost never see. The director is twenty years into his career and can handle all of the demands of a large studio production. He knows how to cut the film into what works, and isn’t precious about the process. Better still, we get Eddie Murphy, a star at the peak of his career, who re-writes his lines on set and elevates the material. He can do that. He’s also the producer.

All this lightning in a bottle wouldn’t be so amazing, except we are making a film about a kid being kidnapped by a demonic cult, trying to feed him blood, bone-daggers, snake-women, hellish communion and a freaking giant demon terrorizing Eddie Murphy. Usually this type of fare is relegated to either young blood filmmakers or very low budgets for older ones. But here is a film with a great package all the way around that just happens to be a production about all the things I find awesome.

Back-story is everything, and this film has a pretty simple yet great one. This cult needs to kill this kid in order to unleash hell on Earth. A woman has come to the city of Angels to find a finder of lost children to help them save the golden child.

Eddie Murphy gives a humanistic and hilarious performance a Chandler Jarrell, a, well, finder of lost children. The beautiful Charlotte Lewis plays Kee Nang, the woman sent to help him on his quest. After being harangued on the basketball court, Jarell tells the woman to “stop smoking scrolls” and declines her offer. But he soon finds that the case he is on and the disappearance of the Golden Child are connected.

Murphy makes this character so funny, usually what we get in these types of films are funny little professors or scientists, here we have a cocky, funny tough guy, who we love to root for. A particular favorite scene of mine is where Murphy leaps into a family’s backyard in order to sneak up on a gang house. The family is barbecuing and is disturbed by having a black man brandishing a pistol leap into their yard. Murphy looks at the woman and says: “I just want some chips. That’s all I want. Is some chips.” The grill begins to smoke. “Turn that shit over man, it’s burning turn it over!” And he’s gone. Brilliant.

Later after meeting the oracle flown in from Tibet to help them Murphy asks Kee Nang what that old broad’s deal is. Kee Nang replies, “One of her ancestors was raped by a dragon.” Murphy gives the driest reply possible. “That happen a lot where you’re from?”

Unlike most dour and dark films about demonology or black magic this film is light and fun!

There aren’t many shades of grey or degrees of varying morality. Mostly, good is good and bad is bad. The man and woman fall in love and save the day. But we are treated to incredible effects work and design. The work here by ILM is top-notch stuff, the kind of special effects that actually felt “special”. There’s one weird moment where the villain transforms from a rat in the alley to his human form that is super-impressive.

The story is both very classical and of it’s moment. In many ways I regard it as a sister film to Big Trouble In Little China which was released the same year.  Both films starred Victor Wong and James Hong in large supporting roles, and both films feature that dynamic of being a supernatural Chinese influenced adventure! In fact, John Carpenter turned down directing this film to make that one!

Here’s a huge thing. The second act where they go to Tibet? They could have not done that. They could have done it cheaper and had more detecting and that would have been boring. It is the fact that they go to and from Tibet in the film that makes it an adventure and not just a supernatural detective film.

Victor Wong is really quite great in this film, though not quite as good as he could be in the hands of John Carpenter. His gross eccentricities and solemn piety create a contradiction that any actor would call subtle work. He is funny and off-putting, inviting, yet, crude. I just wanted to note him and his small contribution.

The kid who plays the Golden Child is fine, but the role really doesn’t require much. I suppose the kid looks holy, but maybe they hired him for his ability to make an inanimate Pepsi can tap dance to “Putting On The Ritz”. This scene was really a favorite of mine as a child. It’s really amazing all the technique that went into this film. It wasn’t always necessary to do things the way that they did, but you can feel the love in every ounce of the film.

Sardo Numspa as portrayed by Charles Dance had me convinced at a very young age that we could shave this guy’s head and have the Lex Luthor we have always needed in a film. Dance is chilling and he’s the one guy who’s playing the film as though this were a Stuart Gordon film. The melodrama and menace is turned all the way up and the scene with him and Eddie Murphy in the airport is like watching a scenery chewing master class. You can’t take your eyes of either one of these guys!

I’m sure many of you remember this film, but many of you weren’t born before 1986. So, here’s my recommendation. Get together with your goofiest friend, get some junk food and beer and enjoy one the great paperback movies. *

 

 

*Paperback movies  – Movies that are under two hours, and contain pulpy content such as is found in dime store fictions, or weird magazines.

 

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One Response to “The Golden Child – Michael Ritchie – 1986”

  1. I thought I was the only person in the world who thoroughly enjoys this movie. Every now and then I have an urge to re watch with a good cup of tea.

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