This article contains spoilers for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
As is often the case for a Quentin Tarantino movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood arrived with a smattering of controversy. Although this time, it’s perhaps not what you might have expected, given that the film covers QT’s take on events leading up to the Manson Family murders.
Nope, this time, the backlash has to do with his portrayal of big-screen martial arts legend, Bruce Lee. And Tarantino himself has responded to the criticism, saying that Lee was “kind of an arrogant guy.”
Played by Mike Moh in the movie, it’s Lee’s portrayal as a self-aggrandising boaster that has frustrated many – including his daughter, Shannon Lee. It’s especially surprising given that Tarantino’s depictions of other real-life figures such as Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie) and Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) have been praised for being respectful.
“The way [Lee] was talking, I didn’t just make a lot of that up,” Tarantino said at a Russian press conference (as reported by Yahoo). “I heard him say things like that, to that effect. If people are saying, ‘Well he never said he could beat up Muhammad Ali,’ well yeah, he did. Not only did he say that, but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read. She absolutely said that.”
Spoilers for the film follow after the jump – proceed with caution if you haven’t seen the film yet and have avoided any of the pre-release trailers.
In the film, Moh’s Lee appears in a brief scene on the Hollywood set of TV show The Green Hornet, in which he bigs up his fighting prowess in front of a group of stuntmen (“My hands are registered as lethal weapons…”) and declares himself capable of downing Muhammad Ali. He then challenges an incredulous Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) to a best-of-three-rounds contest – which sees the ageing stunt double block Lee’s kick and swing him into the side of a car.
Shannon Lee expressed her own disappointment around the time of the film’s US release at the end of July, calling her father’s depiction a “caricature”. “He comes across as an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air,” she told The Wrap. “I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super bad-ass who could beat up Bruce Lee. But they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.”
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