Quentin Tarantino Defends Bruce Lee Portrayal in ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’

Brad Pitt and Mike Moh in Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (2019) Titles: Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood People: Brad Pitt, Mike Moh Photo by ANDREW COOPER
ANDREW COOPER/Sony Pictures Entertainment

During a Russia press conference for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino rebuffed accusations that his movie unfairly portrayed martial arts legend Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, has been at the forefront of criticism leveled at the famed director’s ninth movie. In the film, actor Brad Pitt’s former green beret character Cliff takes down the Enter the Dragon icon — though it is left unclear who would win the fight. Shannon Lee claims her father is portrayed as “an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air.”

“I can understand all the reasoning behind what is portrayed in the movie,” she said:

I understand that the two characters are antiheroes, and this is sort of like a rage fantasy of what would happen… and they’re portraying a period of time that clearly had a lot of racism and exclusion. 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.

And, further:

While I understand that the mechanism in the story is to make Brad Pitt’s character out to be such a badass that he can beat up Bruce Lee, the script treatment of my father as this arrogant, egotistical punching bag was really disheartening — and, I feel, unnecessary.

But Tarantino disagrees with the judgment. At the aforementioned press conference, he asserted that Bruce Lee was “kind of an arrogant guy,” and that he drew his portrayal of the character from reality.

“I heard him say things like that — to that effect,” Tarantino said. “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 it.”

The veteran director also compared the question of whether it was valid for Pitt’s character to beat Bruce Lee to the same question about Count Dracula.

“Could Cliff beat up Bruce Lee? Brad would not be able to beat up Bruce Lee, but Cliff maybe could,” Tarantino said. “If you ask me the question, ‘Who would win in a fight: Bruce Lee or Dracula?’ It’s the same question. It’s a fictional character. If I say Cliff can beat Bruce Lee up, he’s a fictional character — so he could beat Bruce Lee up.”

“What Bruce Lee is talking about in the whole thing is that he admires warriors,” the Kill Bill director continued. “He admires combat, and boxing is a closer approximation of combat as a sport. Cliff is not part of the sport that is like combat, he is a warrior. He is a combat person.”

Quentin Tarantino theorized that while Booth would certainly lose to Lee in a Madison Square Garden martial arts tournament, if the two were brawling in “the jungles of the Phillipines,” that Cliff would “kill him.” Tarantino did not, however, speculate as to where or how Cliff could beat Dracula.



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