It’s been nearly three weeks since Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood hit theaters, but arguably its biggest controversy is still stirring—the depiction of Bruce Lee in the film.
To recap: In the movie, Brad Pitt’s badass stuntman, Cliff Booth, gets himself in a three-round brawl with Lee, played by Mike Moh. In the scene, Lee is portrayed as fast-talking and arrogant—saying he’d make Mohammed Ali “a cripple.” Since then, many people have been critical of the scene, including Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s stunt coordinator, Robert Alonzo, Lee's biographer, and Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon.
Last week, at a press conference in Russia, Tarantino finally responded: “Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy,” he said. “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 Mohammad Ali?’ Well, yeah he did. Alright?”
In a new interview, Variety asked Shannon Lee how she thought Tarantino could fix the situation. “He could shut up about it,” she said. “That would be really nice. Or he could apologize or he could say, ‘I don’t really know what Bruce was like. I just wrote it for my movie. But that shouldn’t be taken as how he really was.'”
Later, she addresses a point Tarantino made at the Russia junket—which was that since Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a fictional movie, he can pretty much take all the liberties he wants.
“One of the things that’s troubling in his response is that, on the one hand, he wants to put this forward as fact and, on the other hand, he wants to stay in fiction,” Lee said.
The “fact” Lee is likely referring to is the Mohammed Ali bit—which Tarantino claims Lee’s wife, Linda Lee Caldwell, wrote in a biography. However, the quote was from a critic, who wrote, "Those who watched [Bruce] Lee would bet on Lee to render Cassius Clay senseless.”
“[Tarantino] can portray Bruce Lee however he wanted to, and he did,” Shannon Lee said. “But it’s a little disingenuous for him to say, ‘Well, this is how he was, but this is a fictional movie, so don’t worry too much about it.’”
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