In The Golden Child (1986), when Chandler Jarrell (Eddie Murphy) and Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis) reach the Tibetan temple where the sacred Adjanti dagger is kept, Kee Nang spins a prayer wheel and chants her humble request for the dagger to save the Golden Child’s life, but the High Priest suggests Chandler ask for it instead. In typical, irreverent Eddie Murphy fashion, after rolling his eyes at the request, Chandler chants while spinning the prayer wheel like he’s scratching vinyl on a turntable. The High Priest demands he ask again, properly, and this time, going off Kee Nang’s side-eye, Chandler feigns sincerity, spins the prayer wheel and chants “I want the knife!”, then spins it one last time for effect and adds “Please!”
Pleasantries aside, Chandler’s flippant attitude in this scene indicates his general level of scepticism throughout the film, but also perfectly illustrates the Eddie Murphy that audiences have come to know and love across a range of roles – the fast-talking, quick-witted skeptic with a glint in his eye and a heart of gold.
By 1984, at just 23 years old, Murphy was king of the box office after 48 Hrs, Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop cumulatively grossed over $390 million. So, in 1986, many were surprised when he chose The Golden Child over approximately 20 other projects that Paramount was developing specifically for him. The film, about an American social worker tasked with saving a special Tibetan child from the clutches of the evil-sorcerer-slash-actual-demon Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance), was considered a substantial change of pace for him because of the supernatural storyline. Regardless, Murphy at the helm concerned John Carpenter enough that he limited his prep time on Big Trouble in Little China, a film with similar themes and much of the same Asian cast, to ensure his movie came out earlier in the year. Carpenter's concerns proved valid when his film made just $11.1 million, while Murphy's made over $79.8 million a few months later. History has judged the two films very differently, but The Golden Child has lived on in the rose-coloured memories of 80s kids the world over.
In the 1980s Murphy was the king of raunch, known for his foul language and crude stand-up material, but surprisingly The Golden Child’s strongest obscenity was the word ‘ass’. So despite its blasé depictions of child endangerment, human trafficking, satanic rituals and semi-graphic violence, The Golden Child was deemed Murphy’s most family-friendly offering (it had a PG-13 rating), and one 80s kids watched repeatedly with glee.
The film was critically panned but many of its hilarious one-liners endure – even Kanye West and Die Antwoord (themselves children of the 80s) have sampled lines from the film in their songs 'Gone' and 'Enter the Ninja' respectively. In fact, the film is so strongly connected to 80s kid culture that it launched the What The Kids Were Watching podcast, which explores the weird and wonderful movies children were subjected to by their babysitters in that decade. So what was the verdict of nostalgic rewatches of the film on its 30th anniversary in 2016? Many still remembered it fondly, proving that sentimental memories of a dancing Pepsi can and a perfect bald-headed child, coupled with a lifetime of quoting Chandler’s sarcastic zingers (from scenes like this or this), softened any adult concerns with the now obvious sexism, racial stereotypes and terrible special effects in the film. Instead, fans of The Golden Child were reminded why Eddie Murphy was king of the 80s box office – his charm and that trademark laugh could make just about anything funny.
– Candice D’Arcy
This essay was written for Edit Line
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