Usually, when I write the phrase “dragon lady librarian,” an image of an older, scowling librarian who’s white and female and metaphorically spewing fire and brimstone at an innocent library user comes to mind, yes? Ah, the power of stereotypes. (SIGH.)
But the dragon lady librarian in 1986’s classic comedy The Golden Child is very different from that stereotypical depiction above. Let’s investigate, shall we?
First, here’s a trailer for the film, in case you’re unfamiliar with the film, or it’s been awhile. Eddie Murphy plays as Chandler Jarrell, a man who finds missing children. The Golden Child, a young boy in Tibet who has mystical abilities, is kidnapped by evil men led by Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance). A young woman, Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis), enlists Chandler’s help and calls him “The Chosen One,” because he is destined to find The Golden Child, and therefore help save humanity, yada, yada, yada… you know the drill, right?
***POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS***
The dragon lady librarian shows up three times in the film, at critical points in the plot, at 17 minutes, 45 minutes, and 78 minutes in this 93-minute long film.
Librarian scene #1
At 17 minutes into the film, Chandler has just come back from scouting out a house where the body of another child he was looking for, a young girl, was found. There seems to be a connection to the gang who kidnapped the Golden Child, as there are Tibetan graffiti markings on the walls and a bowl of oatmeal soaked with the girl’s blood. (I first watched this movie as a kid, and the blood-soaked oatmeal in this movie always creeped me out the MOST. Shudder.) Chandler asks Kee why they were trying to feed the child blood-soaked oatmeal, and Kee responds that she doesn’t know but that “There is somebody we could ask about the blood.”
Chandler and Kee next walk into a store that looks to be an apothecary, and they walk into the back and downstairs into a brick basement.
In one corner is a three-paned screen, and we can see the shadow of a woman sitting, and she is wearing a headdress. We also get a glimpse of the woman’s face through the left side of the screen. The mysterious woman smokes (what I presume to be) opium through a long-handled instrument.
Let’s listen in on the exposition:
Chandler Jarrell: Tell me about the Golden Child.
Kala: Every thousand generations, a perfect child is born, a Golden Child. He has come to rescue us.
Chandler: Rescue us from what?
Kala: From ourselves. He is the bringer of compassion. If he dies, compassion will die with him.
Chandler: So if something happens to the kid, the whole world goes to hell?
Kala: The world will BECOME hell.
Chandler: Ah! Not far from that now. Listen, who would want to take the kid, anyway?
Kala: Those who want evil rather than good.
Chandler: Can you be a little bit more specific?
Kala: We do not know who took him.
Chandler: Well, could you tell me why the people that took him are trying to make him eat blood?
Kala: Nothing in this world will hurt him, but if he were to pollute himself with anything impure, he would become vulnerable.
Chandler: Ok. So if they… if he eats the blood, they could kill him.
Kala: Do you have any other questions?
Chandler: As a matter of fact, I do. What are you doing this weekend? Because your silhouette is kickin’.
We then hear her rattling in frustration at his impudence. And librarians everywhere feel her pain. Sexual harassment is NOT COOL, y’all. Step off. And this librarian is not afraid to voice her displeasure and incredulity:
Kala: THIS is the Chosen One?
It’s interesting to note that we don’t actually know yet that she’s a librarian. But in two minutes, she’s already conducted a reference interview, filled in lots of exposition, and revealed the high stakes for the quest. I also love that although she’s clearly an unconventional librarian, she says what any librarian would say: “Do you have any other questions?“
Next, we see Chandler and Kee walking and talking, and Kee fills in the exposition about Kala:
Chandler: You people certainly do put on a good show. Where’d you find her at?
Kee: She’s the librarian at the Secret Repository at Palkor Sin. She was flown here to help us. She’s over 300 years old.
Chandler: And how’d she manage that one?
Kee: One of her ancestors was raped by a dragon.
Thank you, Kee! Now we know that Kala is literally a dragon lady librarian! And clearly, she is knowledgable and highly respected. Who else but a librarian would the audience trust? 😉
It’s also interesting to note here that two women actually played Kala. Shakti Chen, a Chinese actress, played Kala, while Marilyn Schreffler, an American actress, voiced the character.
Librarian scene #2
Kala’s expertise is needed again after Chandler learns about the Ajanti Dagger, a weapon the baddies plan to use to kill the Golden Child.
So at 45 mins into the film, Chandler returns to Kala.
Kala: So. It is Sardo Numspa.
Chandler: What’s this knife?
Kala: The cross-dagger of Ajanti. He brought it to this world to kill the second Golden Child, the bearer of justice. His death was a great loss.
Doctor Hong: Sardo needs it to kill the child, but you can use it to save him.
Kala: You must obtain the knife and lure Numspa into freeing the child. But you must never let him get possession of the knife.
In this 30-second scene, Kala once again provides important details (the main baddie’s name), backstory (the knife), the high stakes (the killing of a previous Golden Child), PLUS directs Chandler onto the next quest. Librarians are so efficient!
Librarian scene #3
At 1 hour and 18 minutes into the film, Chandler has successfully completed his quest to obtain the Ajanti dagger and returned to Los Angeles, but Kee has died in a fight with the baddies. Chandler, filled with grief and anger, returns to the brick basement, this time taking Kee’s body with him.
Kala: You can save her. The Golden Child can bring her back, as long as sunlight still shines on her body.
Chandler: No more magic. No more riddles, all right? She’s dead!
In anger, Chandler rushes up to the screen and throws it aside. We get our first true glimpse at the dragon lady librarian, scales and all.
Kala tries to block Chandler’s gaze with her arms, and he looks terrified (rightly so, because that move was seriously disrespectful!). Dr. Hong then sternly redirects Chandler’s attention and reiterates Kala’s final task for Chandler, that he has until nightfall to the find the Golden Child and save Kee.
My final thoughts
Although we know the dragon lady librarian is named Kala — by the credits and by the captions —
her name is never actually mentioned onscreen, at least not in the scenes featuring her. (UPDATE 7/21: Reader ST Beverly left a comment and shared that “her name is actually mentioned when Chandler was leaving from visiting her. He calls her name and then proceeds to tell her she needs to get some sun.” Thank you!)
And we are told by someone else, Kee, that she is a librarian; without that line of vital dialogue, we would never know Kala is a librarian, as she’s never seen in a library or with typical library props.
I’m pretty confident in stating that this is the only reel librarian with a bag of props that include a screen, a headdress, and a long-handled cigarette holder. #LibrarianGoals 😉
Ultimately, although Kala is a most unconventional reel librarian by way of accessories and backstory, she serves a relatively conventional reel librarian role, that of an Information Provider. Right on cue throughout the film, she provides vital plot points and helps propel the plot forward.
Kala is seen onscreen for less than 5 minutes total, yet her presence is quite memorable. Ultimately, I have classified her reel librarian portrayal as Class III, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with memorable or significant scenes.
- The Golden Child. Dir. Michael Ritchie. Perf. Eddie Murphy, Charles Dance, Charlotte Lewis. Paramount, 1986.