Quentin Tarantino defends the portrayal of Bruce Lee in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

Hanna Flint
Quentin Tarantino attends the press conference of the movie "Once Upon a time in Hollywood" in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Gennady Avramenko/Epsilon/Getty Images)

Quentin Tarantino has defended his characterisation of Bruce Lee in his movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Many people have criticised the way the Enter the Dragon star is presented in the movie, including the his daughter, Shannon Lee, who has spoken up about her frustration. Portrayed by Mike Moh, Bruce Lee is shown fighting Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth in Tarantino’s film on set.

Speaking to The Wrap, Shannon Lee said that in real life, her father was frequently challenged, but would studiously avoid fighting. She said that in the film “he comes across as an arrogant a**hole who was full of hot air.”

Tarantino responded to the complaints while speaking at press conference in Moscow to promote the movie.

“Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy,” the filmmaker said.

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

“I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super bad-ass who could beat up Bruce Lee,” Shannon Lee told The Wrap. “But they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.

“He comes across as an arrogant a**hole who was full of hot air. And not someone who had to fight triple as hard as any of those people did to accomplish what was naturally given to so many others.”

Mild spoilers ahead...

In the film, Lee is played by Mike Moh, and he appears in a scene opposite Brad Pitt’s ageing stuntman Cliff Booth on the set of the TV series The Green Hornet.

Brad Pitt as Cliff and Mike Moh as Bruce Lee (Credit: Sony)

The scene sees the Kato actor boast about his fighting prowess and even bragging he could beat Muhammad Ali before he challenges Cliff to a fight.

In the original version of the scene, Cliff wins the challenge but according to the film’s stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo it was changed at Pitt’s urging.

“I know that Brad had expressed his concerns, and we all had concerns about Bruce losing,” Alonzo told The Huffington Post.

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“Especially for me, as someone who has looked up to Bruce Lee as an icon, not only in the martial-arts realm, but in the way he approached philosophy and life, to see your idol be beaten is very disheartening.”

Mike Moh plays Bruce Lee (Credit: Richard Harbaugh via Getty Images)

He added: “Everyone involved was like, ‘How is this going to go over?’ Brad was very much against it. He was like, ‘It’s Bruce Lee, man!'”

Bruce Lee biographer Matthew Polly also weighed in on the scene and called it out for misrepresenting the actor.

“Bruce revered Cassius Clay, he never trash talked him in real life,” said Polly.

“Bruce never used jumping kicks in an actual fight. And even if he did, there wasn’t a stuntman in Hollywood fast enough to catch his leg and throw him into a car.

“Given how sympathetic Tarantino’s portrayal of Steve McQueen, Jay Sebring, and Sharon Tate is, I’m surprised he didn’t afford the same courtesy to Lee, the only non-white character in the film,” he added.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is in cinemas from Wednesday, 14 August.