You would think that Bruce Lee’s cameo in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood would have been a good thing. After all, the late martial arts icon was played by Mike Moh, an absolute Lee-alike. But fans aren’t pleased with Bruce Lee’s fight scene with fictional stuntman Cliff Booth.
They thought it was offensive just as the legend’s daughter, Shannon Lee felt. She said it was “disrespectful” and “a mockery”. Moh has already weighed in on the controversy, saying that the only reason his character got thrown into that car was that he got too cocky—a typical obstacle in combat that wasn’t meant to disrespect his hero.
Tarantino Is Not A Bruce Lee Fan
Fast and Furious 9 star Jason Tobin told the Post Fight Podcast, “The bottom line is, Tarantino, isn’t a Bruce Lee fan.” Tobin was asked to join the podcast to discuss Lee’s influence on his training as an actor. According to him, a true Bruce Lee fan would have been “a bit more fair” with portraying him onscreen.
Tobin also added, “He [Tarantino] loves that era. Bruce Lee was a character in that era and he threw him in. But a Bruce Lee fan would not make Bruce Lee like that. He did what directors did back in the 60s to Bruce Lee but in 2019. They ‘ching chonged’ him.”
Tobin also clarified that he still enjoys Tarantino’s films. He just really hopes the narrow Asian stereotypes in them would end already. He also has nothing against Mike Moh. He confessed that he would’ve taken the role himself had he been given the chance.
He Thinks Bruce Lee Was Arrogant
In a Moscow press conference, Tarantino said, “Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy.” How’s that for breaking the silence about the controversy, right? Tarantino obviously believes he didn’t do anything wrong. He knew what he was getting into choosing that plot.
He even added, “The way he [Lee] 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.”
According to the director, a biography written by Bruce Lee’s wife confirmed that he said that about Ali. But Lee’s protégé Dan Inosanto said he “would have never said anything derogatory about Muhammad Ali because he worshiped the ground Muhammad Ali walked on.”
Whatever the truth about Bruce Lee is, Tarantino has made it clear that he doesn’t worship him like most people. We can’t say he disrespects him either. He just doesn’t feel like there was something so sacred about the icon’s life that should make him apologize for how he was treated in the film. Then again, that’s exactly what disappointed the fans of the martial arts legend.
To Him, Lee Was Just A Fictional Character In The Film
In the same press conference, Tarantino emphasized that Bruce Lee’s part in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood was meant to be semi-fictional. He was only fighting a fictional stuntman, after all. The director even said that nobody actually won the fight despite Lee being effortlessly thrown into the car. Yes, what pissed fans off is no big deal to him at all.
“Could Cliff beat up Bruce Lee? Brad would not be able to beat up Bruce Lee, but Cliff maybe could,” Tarantino explained. “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.”
Tarantino went on to defend the scene by discussing Cliff Booth’s “warrior” background in detail. He definitely glorified the fictional character more than Bruce Lee in that press conference. You can’t blame him though. Like Lee’s daughter said herself, she understands that Tarantino’s characters are meant to be antiheroes.
It’s just that Bruce Lee’s fans regard his work as more than about martial arts and entertainment. They look up to him as a philosopher. So it’s probably why they all thought Tarantino diminished Lee’s skills in that fight scene. As for the director’s artistic choice, it’s not all that bad.
As he said, it’s all fiction. We have to admit, it was quite an unexpected turn (honestly a staple in all Tarantino’s films). So what do you think, unforgivable or totally cool?