Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is proving to be another runaway hit for director Quentin Tarantino, already making over $100 million at the domestic office while getting some of the best reviews of his career. However, not everyone is happy with the film and the one area that has perhaps generated the most controversy is the portrayal of actor and martial arts legend Bruce Lee. But if you were expecting an apology from Tarantino, don’t hold your breath.
“Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy,” Tarantino said at a press junket in Moscow.
In the film, stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) recalls the time he got into a fight with Lee (played by Mike Moh) on the set of The Green Hornet. Moh’s portrayal of Lee isn’t exactly flattering, as he is shown to be cocky and brags about how he could beat up Muhammad Ali before being tossed into a car by Cliff. And while the fight is broken up before either can be declared the winner, it’s implied that Lee would have been on the losing end.
Lee’s daughter Shannon expressed her disappointment with how her dad was depicted in the movie, saying that it was “disheartening” to see her father played as “an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air.” However, Tarantino seems to insist that the way he is portraying Lee isn’t that far off from the real thing.
“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,” Tarantino explained.
Overall, Tarantino didn’t seem too fazed by the controversy surrounding Lee’s presence in the film, instead focusing on how Lee was primarily there to show how much of an ass-kicker Cliff really was.
“Could Cliff beat up Bruce Lee? Brad [Pitt] would not be able to beat up Bruce Lee, but Cliff maybe could,” said Tarantino. “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. The reality of the situation is this: Cliff is a Green Beret. He has killed many men in WWII in hand-to-hand combat. What Bruce Lee is talking about in the whole thing is that he admires warriors. 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.”
As for who would have won the fight? Tarantino gave an ambiguous answer.
“If Cliff were fighting Bruce Lee in a martial arts tournament in Madison Square Garden, Bruce would kill him. But if Cliff and Bruce were fighting in the jungles of the Philippines in a hand-to-hand combat fight, Cliff would kill him.”