The Golden Child is an Urban Fantasy film released in 1986 directed by Michael Ritchie, starring Eddie Murphy, Charles Dance, Charlotte Lewis, Victor Wong, and JL Reate as the titular Golden Child and co-produced by Industrial Light & Magic. It is a tongue-in-cheek take on the entire genre of Chosen One stories, complete with a Trickster Mentor, Card-Carrying Villain, and the lovable Karmic Trickster antics of Murphy.
Chandler Jarrell (Murphy) is a private detective specializing in missing children who is recruited by Kee Nang (Lewis) to come to Tibet to locate and rescue the Golden Child, a boy with mystic powers who has been kidnapped by demonic forces. The Big Bad, a sorcerer named Sardo Numspa (Dance), wishes to kill the child to bring about the rule of evil on Earth, but must do so at a specific time with a specific ritual. Jarrell, a cynic and skeptic, is forced to come to terms with the supernatural elements of the world, as he is the Chosen One who is fated to protect the child. First, however, he must undergo his own training at the hands of "The Old Man", a Trickster Mentor played by Victor Wong, and recover the Ajanti dagger that is the only hope of killing Numspa... or the Golden Child.
This film contains examples of the following tropes:
- Action Girl: Kee Nang kicks serious ass; she's far more capable in combat than Jarrell, scoffing at his attempts to "protect" her.
- All Bikers are Hells Angels: The Yellow Dragon gang. They're also apparently a bunch of gay guys due to their appreciative whistling reactions to a video to the Hair Metal band RATT.
- The Apple Falls Far: In the chamber where the Ajanti dagger is kept, Jarrell finds himself walking over a deep dark pit, but he doesn't think it's really deep, so he drops a coin into the abyss, only to panic when he doesn't hear it hit the bottom. It eventually hits the bottom, but only after several minutes.
- Arrested for Heroism: Invoked by Numspa, who attempts to have Jarrell arrested at the airport for smuggling the Ajanti dagger. And then Jarrell explains the rules of evidence to him.
- Artistic License – Law: When Numspa tries to have Jarrell arrested at the airport for stealing the dagger, Jarrell is correct in saying that if he is arrested, Numspa won't get the dagger because the police will take it as evidence. However, it would not have even gotten to that point. Numspa can't just call the police and tell them someone stole something, and have four or five uniformed officers show up at the airport to help him retrieve it. No day, no way. The police would tell him to come in and file a police report, he'd have to show proof that the dagger is his, he'd also have to give the police something to show reasonable suspicion or probable cause that Jarrell is actually the one who stole it, he'd have to swear out a warrant for Jarrell's arrest in front of a district or city attorney, that arrest warrant would have to be approved, and only then would the police actually arrest Jarrell, although it's much more likely he'd be given an opportunity to turn himself in.
- Badass Longcoat: Numspa likes to dress in a formally archaic style, including a long coat, befitting his role as an Evil Sorcerer. Chandler lampshades this during the Dream Sequence.Sardo Numspa: I really don't like your attitude.Chandler Jarrell: Y'know, this is a nice jacket, it's a Morris Day feel, it looks good on you, and the boots; smokin'.
- Batman Gambit: Numspa attempts to have Jarrell arrested, claiming that the latter stole a dagger from him. Numpsa needs the dagger to kill the Golden Child, and he believes that either Jarrell will give him the dagger to avoid arrest, or that the police will simply hand it over to him after arresting Jarrell. Jarrell gleefully agrees to be arrested, then takes a moment to explain the rules of evidence handling to Numpsa: Jarrell will be arrested, and the dagger held in police custody as evidence for his trial, which might not happen for months, maybe even over a year. Since Numpsa has to kill the child within a specific time frame that's closing fast, this means that Numpsa would have to storm police headquarters to get a hold of the dagger (instead of fighting a few relatively lightly armed members of a secret society). Numpsa is forced to publicly back off of his accusations and let Jarrell go free rather than risk storming a police station.
- Bavarian Fire Drill : Jarrell needs to get the Ajanti Dagger through a Metal Detector Checkpoint in Tibet. He slips the Dagger into the pocket of another passenger, then the unwitting dupe goes through and the alarm sounds. Jarrell pretends to be a law enforcement official, "confiscates" the Dagger on the other side of the detector (while making a big enough scene that the dupe is able to leave unmolested) and continues on his way.
- Bottomless Pits: One of the hazards used to protect the Ajanti Dagger. Jarrell thinks it's just a trick, so he tosses a quarter down and listens for when it lands... but instead hears nothing but silence. Subverted in that there is actually a bottom, but it is really, really, deep as evidenced by the coin clanging on the ground several minutes later.Jarrell: THERE'S NO GROUND HERE!
- The Cameo: Famed Hollywood stunt man, martial artist and professional wrestler "Judo" Gene LeBell has a cameo as the drunk biker who coughs in Eddie Murphy's face.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Numspa drips with cackling villainy, reveling in his evilness and tormenting people just because he can.
- Catapult Nightmare: Jarrell awakens abruptly from his dream when Numspa's minion starts attacking him.
- Celibate Hero: Jarrell, involuntarily. He's assigned this task by the Old Man as a rite of purification, and one of the conditions is that he is not to tell Kee Nang about it.
- Chekhov's Gun: While Chandler Jarrell is in Tibet, Kee Nang's father (masquerading as a beggar) sells him a medallion. Near the end of the movie a demon tries to stab Chandler with the Ajanti Dagger and the medallion deflects the blow.
- The Chosen One: Jarrell. He's not happy about it.Jarrell: Why can't someone choose me to go to the Bahamas?
- The Chosen ZeroKala: [hidden behind a screen] Do you have any other questions?
Jarrell: As a matter of fact I do. What are you doing this weekend, because your silhouette is kicking! [snip]
Kala: This is the Chosen One?
Doctor Hong: [looks embarrassed] Yes.
- Cosmic Keystone: The Golden Child serves this role in the universe, keeping the forces of evil at bay through his mere existence.
- Crosscast Role: Although the character of The Golden Child is portrayed and treated as a boy throughout the movie, the part was played by actress Jasmine Reate. (Who was credited as "J.L. Reate" to help hide the fact that the male Golden Child was in fact played by a girl).
- Cut Himself Shaving: Chandler uneasily jokes about this as Tommy Tong's cause of death, when he and Kee Nang find his corpse after Numspa disposes of his minion.
- Deadpan Snarker: Much of the dialogue among the heroic characters consists of them snarking at each other; Jarrell also quips sarcastic at Numspa, much to the latter's annoyance.
- Department of Redundancy Department: This quote:Jarrell: Listen, this "Chosen One" thing; it's gone too far now, okay? This is—this is not normal. I'm not saying "no", but the "Chosen One" thing: too far.Dr. Hong: Could you please leave us for a moment?Jarrell: Yes, y'all talk it over, 'cause this is not a normal thing, and it should be discussed, because it's not normal.
- Dragon Ancestry: Kala, whose lower body is snakelike, is the librarian of the Pao Shin Repository. She is flown in to provide information about the Golden Child. She is over 300 years old: her body shape and long life are due to the fact that one of her ancestors was raped by a dragon.
- Dream Sequence: Complete with a live Studio Audience, no less. And some marvelous◊ Sarcastic Clapping.
- Dream Weaver: Sardo Numspa and his minions enter Chandler Jarrell's dream and Numspa (In true Freddy Krueger fashion) controls it to give Jarrell a scary time, including burning his arm so he'll remember the experience.
- The End of the World as We Know It: The Golden Child is a Cosmic Keystone keeping the forces of evil at bay by his very existence. Should he be killed, which is only possible if he succumbs to evil, The Legions of Hell would be free to conquer Earth. The heroes' mission is to rescue him before that happens.
- Erotic Dream: After Numpsa threatens Jarrell in a dream, Kee Nang informs him That Was Not a Dream...except for the bit where she was scantily-clad and suggested they get together and "let nature take its course".
- Evil Brit: Charles Dance in Large Ham fashion as Sardo Numspa.
- Evil Sorcerer: Numspa has access to a variety of demonic powers, fittingly since he is, in fact, a demon.
- Exact Words:
- To test his character, Chandler has to traverse the maze to the dagger without spilling the glass of water he's been given. However, when he gets to the dagger, it's covered with a wreath of fire. Knowing he's unable to use the water to put the fire out, he drinks the water instead, so the fire goes out and he takes the dagger.
- After Kee Nang gets shot with a crossbow, Chandler is told that the Golden Child can revive her as long as the sun's rays still touch the body, which is laid in state. After the final battle, Chandler and the Child see that the sun, shining in through the window, is no longer touching her body. But all they have to do is raise her leg so that the sun is touching her, and the Child is able to revive her.
- Fantasy All Along: Numpsa simply shoots Kee Nang in the back during the final showdown with a crossbow (Jarrell was his actual target), and she dies pretty anticlimactically. Good thing that the titular 'Golden Child' is capable of healing people... which he does when the last battle is finished.
- Friend to All Children: Jarrell.
- Friend to All Living Things: The Golden Child is seen befriending birds and refuses to eat meat. Or blood.
- Giving Them the Strip: A beggar takes a $100 bill from Jarrell instead of a $1 bill. Jarrell grabs him and tries to make him give the $100 bill back, but the old man disappears, leaving Chandler holding his clothes.Jarrell: Has anybody seen a little naked old man running around with a hundred dollars?
- Goo-Goo-Godlike: The Golden Child can restore life with his touch, make inanimate objects move, and remove evil thoughts from people. He likely could have freed himself, but he isn't the violent type.
- Grievous Bottley Harm: Before attacking Kee Nang, a biker casually breaks a bottle of beer to create a weapon. Kee Nang jumps up, grabs onto an overhead metal pipe and kicks him through a wall.
- Groin Attack: While Chandler Jarrell is fighting the biker gang members he punches one of them in the 'nads to take him down.
- Guile Hero: Jarrell uses his wits frequently to overcome the problems he encounters.
- Hairpin Lockpick: When Kee Nang needs to get through a locked door into the house headquarters of a biker gang, she pulls a hairpin out of her hair and jimmies the lock.
- Half-Human Hybrid: One of Kala's ancestors was a half-dragon. Jarrell infers that it must have been Hot Skitty-on-Wailord Action.
- Handcuffed Briefcase: After Chandler Jarrell gets the Ajanti Dagger back into the United States, it's kept in a briefcase chained to Chandler's wrist for safekeeping. One of the bad guys chops through the chain during a fight to steal the briefcase.
- Heel–Face Door-Slam: Til is helpful, but he doesn't last long after the Golden Child touches him.
- Heel–Face Turn: It's implied that the Golden Child removes the evil from anyone he touches; when he does this to one of Numspa's minions, the man instantly turns against his colleagues until he is killed.
- Hell on Earth: If the Golden Child is killed, Numspa's demon buddies will invade the Earth and take over.Jarrell: So, if something happens to the kid, the whole world goes to Hell?
Kala: The world will become Hell.
Jarrell: Ah! It ain't that far off.
- Hero Harasses Helpers: After facing the Yellow Dragons, Chandler tells Kee Nang "Why'd you come in here? Didn't I tell you not to... I told you to stay in the car. Next time I tell you to do something, you do it!".
- Hot Skitty-on-Wailord Action: Kala, a female human/dragon hybrid, one of whose ancestors was supposedly raped by a dragon.
- Ignorant of the Call: Chandler Jarrell does many good deeds, but refuses to believe that he's The Chosen One, despite being repeatedly told it by Kee and Doctor Hong. Eventually, he reluctantly comes to accept it.
- Impossible Task: Traverse the maze with a full glass of water.
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: The Golden Child, by definition. Part of the Evil Plan is to coerce him into drinking blood, an impure act which would render him vulnerable to harm.
- Indecisive Parody: The film can't seem to decide if it's an Affectionate Parody of The Chosen One or a straight use. This is probably because it originally was going to be a straight action movie staring Mel Gibson, then the part was recast with Eddie Murphy, arguably the biggest star in Hollywood at the time and certainly its biggest comedy star — whereupon they took out a lot of the dialogue and just let him improvise stuff.
- Instant Allegiance Artifact: Letting the Golden Child touch you will result in you becoming his protector, even if you were ordered to kill him.
- Intimidation Demonstration: While Chandler Jarell is fighting Tommy Tong, Tong repeatedly flourishes his swords to make it clear to Chandler that he's outmatched.
- Levitating Lotus Position: The title character's astrally projected image does this when it appears to Chandler Jarrell.
- Light Liege, Dark Defender: Jarrell and Kee Nang are a rare gender-flipped version.
- Love Interest: Kee Nang, intentionally, to tempt Jarrell into his role. Later, she genuinely falls for him.
- MacGuffin Super-Person: The Golden Child is something of a child lama, desired by both sides. He doesn't count quite as a MacGuffin since his own abilities and efforts are conducive (if not critical) to his own escape.
- The Man Behind the Man: Numspa is actually a servant of a demonic namless entity (maybe Satan himself).
- Manchild: One of Numspa's minions has the mind of a child. And, like a child, he is capable of cruelty, but also enjoys some of the Golden Child's beautiful displays of power in a way the others do not. Ultimately, this leads to his redemption when the child touches his hand.
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: The kidnapping (and murder) of a young woman -> attempt to bring Hell to Earth.
- Mook–Face Turn: The Golden Child does this to two of Numspa's minions: once when they try to kidnap him, and again to one of his guards. His simple physical touch is enough to convert them from evil. Which is why Numspa tells them not to let him touch them.
- My Greatest Failure: Kee Nang relates that the forces of darkness managed to kill a previous Golden Child, which is the reason there's no justice in the world. If the current Golden Child dies, it will mean the death of compassion.
- Mysterious Informant: Someone calls Jarrell of the missing girl's last whereabout, and didn't give his name.Jarrell: Who is this?
[The caller hangs up.]
- Neck Snap: A mook villain converted to the side of the good guys breaks the neck of another, unconverted Mook to prevent him from skewering Chandler Jarrell with a crossbow bolt and allow the rescue of the title character.
- Noose Catch: One of Numspa's henchmen has a chain that he uses to snare opponents. Near the end of the movie Jarrell manages to wrap the chain around the henchman's neck. When the henchman falls over a balcony, he ends up being hanged by his own chain.
- Oathbound Power: The Golden Child has powerful supernatural protection as long as he remains pure, in accordance with Buddhist principles. Numspa tries to break this after kidnapping him by tricking the child into eating food that contains blood, to no avail.
- Oh, Crap!
Jarrell: I see you're busy. I'll come back another time.
- When Jarrell bursts in on Numspa in the middle of his ritual, provoking the latter to go One-Winged Angel.
- Also when Jarrell realizes "there's no ground" after dropping a quarter and not hearing it land.
- One-Winged Angel: Numspa spends most of the film looking like Charles Dance. At the Final Battle, and with no foreshadowing anywhere in the film, he transforms into a large, bony, winged demon (stop-motion animated to boot). Cue Oh, Crap! from Jarrell, who was pretty confident on taking him on up to that point.
- Only Mostly Dead: Happens to Kee Nang, setting a really strict time limit for the final battle.
- Only the Pure of Heart
- The Golden Child is immune to harm by the forces of evil so long as he maintains his purity.
- Also invoked with Chandler and the Ajanti dagger, see the When You Snatch the Pebble quote.
- Or Was It a Dream?: During a dream, the Bigbad burns Jarrell's arm. When Jarrell wakes up, the burn turns out to be real.
- Photo Identification Denial: After Chandler and Kee Nang beat up the Yellow Dragons biker gang, Chandler questions one of them about a missing girl. When Chandler shows him a picture of her, the biker says he's never seen her before. After Chandler punches him in the stomach, the biker confesses that his gang sold her to someone to be killed for her blood.
- Plummet Perspective: Lampshaded when Chandler Jarrell undergoes a quest to retrieve a sacred knife. The ground opens up beneath him, revealing what appear to be Bottomless Pits. Jarrell drops a coin to prove they're not really bottomless.Jarrell: There's a ground. You just use mirrors and shit to make it look like there's no ground.
[he drops a coin and listens... and listens...]
Jarrell: There's no ground in here!
- Even better, the coin DOES hit the ground, but it is several minutes later (while Chandler is busy retrieving the knife). Now, if you include the time it took for the sound to actually reach him and use that to calculate the exact distance.....
- Pocket Protector: Chandler Jarrell's medallion saves his life when the demon tries to stab him with the dagger.
- Protective Charm: Chandler Jarell buys a necklace that ends up protecting him from a demon wielding the Ajanti Dagger.
- Real Dreams are Weirder: Numspa communicates with Jarrell in a dream, lampshaded by him because of all the weird stuff happening such as the live Studio Audience, a unicorn trotting around inside the house, and the scantily-clad Kee Nang being tied up with toilet paper.
- Refuge in Audacity: Jarrell pretends to be some kind of Federal Agent, and flashes what should be his badge around...if he actually had one on the part of his wallet that his hand is covering.
- Refusal of the Call: Jarrell absolutely refuses to accept that he's The Chosen One, but helps the good guys anyway because he wants to save the title character. By the end he grudgingly accepts his fate, mainly due to his love for Kee.Kee Nang: It is your destiny to seek the Golden Child!
Jarrell: Yeah, and it's your destiny to seek professional help!
- Resigned to the Call: Jarrell absolutely refuses to believe that he's the Chosen One all the way through the story, but goes along anyway in order to save the child.
- The Reveal: While Jarrell probably never finds out, we learn the Old Man is Kee Nang's father.
- Satan: Numspa's supposed master.
- Neutral Female: Parodied in the dream where by Kee Nang is bound by toilet paper and screams helplessly while Jarrell is being attacked, in contrast to her real life asskicking.
- Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Even after his identity is revealed, the Old Man cusses and picks his nose a lot.
- Sexy Soaked Shirt: Kee Nang gets a sexy scene after her clothes get wet.
- The Shangri-La: Chandler Jarrell and Kee Nang go to Tibet in order to retrieve the Ajanti Dagger. They must travel on foot through the snow-capped mountains to reach the monastery where the Dagger is kept.
- The Silent Bob: The Golden Child doesn't talk until Jarrell finds him (and then only briefly). Still, he's able to express his intentions rather well without doing so.
- Snake People: Kala, the librarian behind the screen. One of her ancestors was raped by a dragon.
- Stay on the Path: Subverted and lampshaded.Old Man: Remember to stay on the path!
Jarrell: I heard you the first time! Let's just hope the path stays under me!
[After the rickety old bridge he crossed through suddenly explodes]
Jarrell: I thought you said to stay on the path!
Old Man: Yes, but you must know when to break the rules!
- Stealth Hi/Bye: While Chandler Jarrell is confronting an old beggar/medallion-seller, the man kicks him in the leg and throws some money in the air. Chandler looks up at the money, and when he looks down again the old man has vanished.
- Suddenly Speaking: The title character is a Living MacGuffin who gives his only line of dialogue ("I know") about six minutes before the credits roll.
- Taking the Bullet: Kee Nang, as Jarrell is about to be shot by Numspa. With a crossbow... ouch.
- Talking in Your Dreams: Numspa communicates with Jarrell in a dream. After he wakes up, Kee Nang informs him that while what Numspa said was actually happening, the parts where she suggested they get together with the hero and "let nature take its course" actually was a dream.
- Tempting Fate: When Jarrell is taking the test to obtain the Dagger he says "This is a piece of cake!" Then it gets worse.
- That Was Not a Dream: Chandler has a dream of taunting Numspa exactly like you'd expect Eddie Murphy to do, who burns a three-inch scar into the inside of his arm for his chutzpah. When he wakes up, the scar's still there. But the part where Kee Nang flirted with him? "That part was dream!"
- Trickster Mentor: The Old Man. His first appearance is as a street vendor who tricks Jarrell out of his money as a Secret Test of Character.
- Unseen Evil: We don't see Satan, but see a typical Fire and Brimstone Hell through his point of view as he speaks in the Voice of the Legion(technically, it's the Voice of Dr. Claw).
- Uptight Loves Wild: Sassy jokester Chandler Jarrell breaks all the rules while trying to save children, and teaches stoic, bookish, disciplined Kee Nang how to literally let down her hair.
- Verbal Tic: Sardo Numspa has trouble pronouncing the letter "J"; he always pronounces it more like a "Y". Lampshaded by Jarrell during the dream sequence.Numspa: I can see it is pointless talking to you, Mr. Yarrell.Jarrell: Why do you insist on mispronouncing my name, leaving the "J" silent? It's "Jarrell", with a "J".
- The Voiceless
- The Golden Child. Lampshaded by Jarrell near the end, after he finally says something.
- Also Til, Numspa's henchman.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: At one point Sardo Numspa changes his form from a rat into his normal shape and back into a rat again.
- Wait Here: This becomes a Running Gag, with Chandler Jarrell repeatedly telling Kee Nang to stay put and her coming after him.
- When You Snatch the Pebble: Jarrell lampshades this.Jarrell: Only a man whose heart is pure can wield the knife, and only a man whose ass is narrow can get down these steps. And if mine is such an ass, then I shall have it.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: The Golden Child, of course — as a Buddha figure he's pretty much got a lock on this trope. For example, he doesn't eat the oatmeal since he knows they're trying to impurify him (there's blood hidden inside it).
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Jarrell is prepared for the whole "magical child fighting demons" thing to be a setup for a scam of some kind, and is not about to be fooled by all the trickery and mumbo jumbo. Turns out he's a wee bit wrong.
- Yellowface: Charlotte Lewis (British/Chilean/Iraqi) as Kee Nang, though her character is heroic. Other Asian characters are played by Victor Wong, Shakti Chen, etc.
- You Have Failed Me: Numspa kills Tommy Tong (after he runs away from Jarrell and Kee Nang) for his cowardice and possible betrayal.
- You Need a Breath Mint: Jarrell after a biker breathes in his face.Jarrell: Hey, hey, hey...In my pocket, there's a whole thing of Tic-Tacs. Take as many as you want. Please.