In Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” 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.
Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, fired the first shot, though she was slightly understanding of Tarantino’s artistic choice.
“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 asshole 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.”
Following that, Variety interviewed a former protegee of Bruce Lee, Dan Inosanto, who said he never saw Lee being the braggadocious fighter that Tarantino portrayed.
“He was never, in my opinion, cocky. Maybe he was cocky in as far as martial arts because he was very sure of himself. He was worlds ahead of everyone else. But on a set, he’s not gonna show off,” Inosanto said.
After enough criticism mounted, Tarantino eventually defended his portrayal of Bruce Lee during a press tour for the film in Russia and provided a fairly compelling case, 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, according to 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.”
Critics also blasted the film for showing Brad Pitt’s character, stuntman Cliff Booth, knock Bruce Lee to the ground with seamless ease. Tarantino defended this as an artistic choice to show that Pitt’s character was a warrior who has lived combat.
“Could Cliff beat up Bruce Lee? Brad 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 continued. “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.”
“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,” Tarantino concluded.
For reasons entirely unknown at this time, the social justice warriors have had the daggers out for Quentin Tarantino lately. TIME, for instance, recently published an article in which two reporters actually watched all of the director’s films to count the number of lines women characters spoke, accusing him of subtle misogyny.