China Halts Release of ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ over Negative Bruce Lee Depiction

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2019)
Sony Pictures Entertainment

China has canceled the release of Quentin Tarantino’s critically acclaimed film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood over its portrayal of the Chinese-American actor and martial artist Bruce Lee, The Hollywood Reporter has reports.

According to sources who spoke with the Reporter, Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon made an appeal to China’s National Film Administration to stop the film’s release over her father’s controversial portrayal in the film.

The film, starring Hollywood heavyweights Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, had been approved for to hit Chinese movie theatres on October 25th, although its release now appears to have been suspended indefinitely.

Although Chinese officials have refused to comment on the decision, the suspension was reportedly a response to the complaints from the Lee family, who argued that he was falsely portrayed in the film.

“I can understand all the reasoning behind what is portrayed in the movie,” Lee’s daughter Shannon said in a July interview with The Wrap. “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,” she continued. “But they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.”
However, such concerns were dismissed by Tarantino during a recent press tour in Russia, where he described Lee as actually a “kind of an arrogant guy.”

“The way he was talking, I didn’t just make a lot of that up,” Tarantino said. “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 it.”

Film censorship is commonplace in China, where communist officials control the distribution of practically all forms of entertainment. Just last week, authorities banned the American cartoon South Park after the Comedy Central show mocked Hollywood for trying to appease Chinese censors.

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