Director Quentin Tarantino is reportedly refusing to re-cut his film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to please censors in Beijing, virtually guaranteeing that the Sony release won’t play in China.
Chinese authorities are rumored to have blocked the release of Once Upon a Time after Shannon Lee, the daughter of martial-arts actor Bruce Lee, contacted Beijing film officials to complain about the way her late father is depicted in the movie.
Hollywood studios have a history of appeasing Chinese censors, even preemptively changing characters and plot points to avoid offending the Communist party. China maintains strict quotas on the number of foreign films per year that are allowed to show on Chinese screens.
China ranks as the world’s second-largest movie market, and Hollywood studios clamor to get their biggest titles on Beijing’s approval list.
But The Hollywood Reporter revealed late Friday that Tarantino has no plans to touch the scene in question, which portrays Bruce Lee as an arrogant and self-aggrandizing performer who is defeated in a fight with low-ranking stuntman Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. The Reporter cited an anonymous source close to the situation.
Tarantino is one of the rare filmmakers in Hollywood who retains final cut privileges over his movies.
The absence of a China release will likely hurt the movie’s global box office haul. Both Pitt and co-star Leonardo DiCaprio are popular draws among Chinese moviegoers. Once Upon a Time was originally slated to be released in China this month through the distributor Bona Film Group.
Tarantino has publicly defended the way he portrayed Bruce Lee, saying that the martial arts fighter could be boastful in real life. “I heard him say things like that — to that effect,” the director told journalists when promoting the movie overseas earlier this year. “Could Cliff beat up Bruce Lee? Brad would not be able to beat up Bruce Lee, but Cliff maybe could.”
Once Upon a Time has so far grossed more than $366 million worldwide, and has been lavishly praised by critics. The movie is expected to figure prominently at the Academy Awards next year.