Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon, has hit out at the portrayal of her father in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s new film set in the late 1960s film industry, saying it was disheartening and uncomfortable.
Speaking to the Wrap, Shannon Lee said: “[Bruce Lee] 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.”
She added: “It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theatre and listen to people laugh at my father.”
Lee, who died in 1973, achieved major film stardom in the early 70s via a string of Hong Kong-produced martial arts films, after years of trying and failing to interest Hollywood in his projects. He is portrayed in Tarantino’s film by Mike Moh, who Lee claims was “directed to be a caricature”.
Criticism of Lee’s treatment in the film centres on a scene where he challenges stunt performer Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt) to a fight, in an encounter where Booth appears to get the better of him. According to Shannon Lee, Bruce – a trainer of many Hollywood figures, including Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate – avoided fighting people who were not martial arts experts. “[But] here, he’s the one with all the puffery and he’s the one challenging Brad Pitt. Which is not how he was.”
“I can understand all the reasoning behind what is portrayed in the movie. I understand that the two [lead] characters are antiheroes, and this is sort of like a rage fantasy of what would happen … and they’re portraying a period that clearly had a lot of racism and exclusion,” she said. “I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super-badass who could beat up Bruce Lee. But they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.”
The Guardian has contacted Quentin Tarantino for a response.
Tarantino has been a vocal admirer of Bruce Lee, most notably dressing Uma Thurman in a replica of Lee’s yellow jumpsuit in his two-part martial arts film Kill Bill.
Shannon Lee is president of the Bruce Lee Foundation, CEO of Bruce Lee Entertainment and is an executive producer on the 2019 TV show Warrior, based on one of her father’s unmade projects.
Lee added: “What I’m interested in is raising the consciousness of who Bruce Lee was as a human being and how he lived his life. All of that was flushed down the toilet in this portrayal, and made my father into this arrogant punching bag.”
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