Thursday, May 3, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... THE GOLDEN CHILD

Only now does it occur to me... that John Carpenter and THE GOLDEN CHILD share a curious history. Apparently, the script to THE GOLDEN CHILD––a fantasy/action/comedy rooted in surreal distortions of Chinese/Tibetan mythology/mysticism––was first offered to John Carpenter to direct as a film starring Mel Gibson. Carpenter declined, because he much preferred the script to a different fantasy/action/comedy rooted in surreal distortions of Chinese mythology/mysticism called BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. He even expedited the production schedule of his own film so that it wouldn't compete with the much larger production, which by then had transformed into an Eddie Murphy vehicle directed by Michael Ritchie (PRIME CUT, THE BAD NEWS BEARS). When the dust settled, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA had grossed $11 million and THE GOLDEN CHILD, $80 million, which apparently was demoralizing to Carpenter. However, I must note that while the cult appeal of Carpenter's film has endured, THE GOLDEN CHILD exists mainly as a footnote in Eddie Murphy's filmography (and for fairly good reason).

While I freely admit my own pro-Carpenter bias, I think it's fairly clear that Carpenter's film approaches its subject material with a greater (albeit absurd) sense of sincerity. It's a nearly timeless, well-choreographed, crackerjack throwback to the cinema of Howard Hawks, whereas THE GOLDEN CHILD feels more like a generic '80s flavor of the week. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA outshines it in action, pacing, and comedy; Ritchie's film is neither particularly funny nor exciting. However, that's not to say that there's nothing of value here for genre fans––there are a few interesting elements at play.

#1. Practically half the cast of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is in THE GOLDEN CHILD. We have Victor Wong ("Egg Shen" in BTILC):

Peter Kwong ("Rain" in BTILC)

and perennial "that guy" actor James Hong ("David Lo Pan" in BTILC)

in roles that are amusing, but substantially more bland than their work with Carpenter.

#2. Ray Harryhausen-style creatures, like a snake woman who recalls Medusa in CLASH OF THE TITANS:

and this little Pepsi can man, who dances to "Puttin' on the Ritz" to the amusement of Randall "Tex" Cobb:

Alright, maybe that alone is worth the price of admission.

#3. There's a bizarre, semi-music video sequence (not pictured) whereupon Eddie Murphy beats up a bunch of bikers listening to "Body Talk" by Ratt, while (contractually-obligated?) images of Ratt's music video intercut the scene. Okay, sure.

#4. Charles Dance. Best known to modern audiences as Tywin Lannister on GAME OF THRONES (and to '90s kids as Benedict in LAST ACTION HERO), Dance is one of the best, most subtle "villain" character actors working today.

As a GAME OF THRONES fan, I must say that it is bizarre to see Tywin Lannister, in the dead of winter, striding into a throne room like he owns the place.

He's later revealed to be a shapeshifting madman who ultimately transforms into a hell-demon like something out of ARMY OF DARKNESS.

Which is fine! It's not quite enough to make this a particularly memorable movie, but it's fine, and certainly plays to my interests on the character actor/hell-demon continuum.


Erich Kuersten said...

Hmm you make me want to revisit this, which is what good posts should do -
I saw GOLDEN CHILD in the theater at a matinee - it being released back when EVERYONE went to see Eddie Murphy movies and he was a god. It was this, BHC 2 and then Haunted Mansion and finally Pluto Nash which toppled him down into overkill ego absurdity. It's the circle of life.

Anyway I loved it in the theater but never wanted to see it again - the same way I had a good time seeing CONAN THE DESTROYER and TEMPLE OF DOOM. Great to see once in a theater as a teenager -but yech, no replay value. Unlike BIG TROUBLE which might seem too weird the first time, but around the 12th time is like expensive champagne

Sean Gill said...


Thanks for the kind words! Indeed correct about the circle of life. And totally agreed on BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, which I do believe is better every time I see it (I crossed the #12 threshold long ago)!