Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” will have to wait a while to see those Chinese dollars due to the country halting the film’s release over its depiction of Bruce Lee.
“The film was originally set to hit theaters in the Middle Kingdom on Oct. 25 after having received approval from Chinese censors,” reports Variety. “But an exhibitor source told Variety that the movie has been ‘temporarily put on hold’ because the daughter of Bruce Lee has filed a complaint to China’s National Film Administration about the on-screen depiction of her late father, a hero to many Chinese.”
The source told the outlet that the film should be approved so long as Tarantino can make some cuts.
In the movie, actor Mike Moh hilariously portrays kung-fu screen legend Bruce Lee as an arrogant braggart who talks a bigger game than the one he plays. Despite the fact that most Bruce Lee biographers agree that Lee did indeed have a haughty side to go along with his sweet side, Tarantino got slapped with accusations of racism for supposedly portraying the film’s lone minority character so disparagingly.
“They didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive,” Shannon Lee told TheWrap. “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. It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father.”
After enough criticism mounted, Tarantino eventually defended his portrayal of Bruce Lee during a press tour for the film in Russia, citing Lee’s own wife as a source.
“The way he was talking, I didn’t just make a lot of that up,” Tarantino said, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
Variety reports that the quote referred to by Tarantino, however, may not be directly attributable to Lee’s wife:
The passage in his wife Linda Lee Cadwell’s book, “Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew,” that Tarantino appears to refer to is a quote from a critic, who wrote that “Those who watched [Bruce] Lee would bet on Lee to render Cassius Clay senseless,” and not from the author herself (Clay was later known as Muhammad Ali).
Though Tarantino has not commented on China stalling the release, he has in the past encouraged his Chinese fans to watch his movies illegally if they so choose. In fact, 2012’s “Django Unchained” received virtually no money in China after a successful bootlegging campaign in response to a similarily stalled release.
“We didn’t make any money on [Django Unchained] but at the same time people saw it all over the place because they see it on bootleg out there and everything,” he said in 2016. “I have a lot of Chinese fans who buy my movies on the street and watch them and I’m OK with it. I’m not OK with it in other places, but if the government’s going to censor me then I want the people to see it in any way they can.”