Thread: Tarantino on Bruce Lee’s Portrayal in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’


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In the latest episode of the Joe Rogan Experience, writer-director Quentin Tarantino once again addressed the controversy surrounding his latest film’s depiction of Bruce Lee.

Following the 2019 release of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, some viewers expressed concern regarding one particular scene featuring Bruce Lee fighting a stuntman played by Brad Pitt. In fact, the late martial artist’s daughter Shannon Lee said Tarantino’s version of her father came across “as an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air.”

In the scene, the fictionalized Bruce (portrayed by Mike Moh) exchanges trash talk with Pitt’s character Cliff Booth on the set of real-life Lee series The Green Hornet. The scene is a flashback (or possibly a daydream), and the fight results in a draw. Bruce Lee’s widow Linda Lee Cadwell also took an issue with the depiction, calling it “a caricature of himself” that was deliberately made him “look stupid, and silly and made to be insultingly ‘Chinesey.’” Mike Moh defended the scene, and at the time Tarantino maintained that Lee had a reputation in Hollywood at the time as “kind of an arrogant guy.
Judging from his interview with Rogan, the 58-year-old Quentin’s thoughts on the scene haven’t changed much. "Where I'm coming from is...I can understand his daughter having a problem with it, it's her fucking father! I get that,” he told Rogan at the 0:30 point of the clip above. “But anybody else? Go suck a dick. And the thing about it, though, is even if you just look at it, it's obvious Cliff tricked him. That's how he was able to do it, he tricked him.”
In speaking about the scene, Tarantino suggested that his writing was inspired by stuntman Gene LeBell’s long-rumored fight with Bruce Lee on the set of Hornet.

“The stuntmen hated Bruce on The Green Hornet,” QT continued. “It’s in [martial artist biographer] Matthew Polly’s book, and before that it’s always been known. That’s why Gene LeBell was brought on, to teach Bruce respect for American stuntmen. Bruce had nothing but disrespect for stuntmen, and he was always hitting them.” He indicated that Bruce had a reputation at the time for “tagging” his fellow stuntmen, which is when he would make actual contact with them in fight scenes. “It got to the point where [people] refused to work with him.”
As for why Tarantino thinks Bruce Lee felt how he did about stuntmen, he added, “It’s like, ‘Oh they’re just not good enough, they’re pussies. I wanna make it look real.’” Rogan asked if he was hitting them to “make it look real,” to which Tarantino replied, “Yeah, but they don’t like that. That’s unprofessional.” Tarantino noted that stuntman and actor Robert Conrad had a similar reputation in the film industry, stressing that he did some “gnarly shit” when it came to stunts. “In the stunt community, he was known as, Robert ‘Never Met a Stuntman He Couldn’t Blame’ Conrad.”

Tarantino decided the scene would go down the way it did because Cliff is supposed to be “a hand-to-hand combat killer” who fought in World War II, the Inglourious Basterds filmmaker said. “If Cliff fought Bruce Lee at one of Aaron Banks’ [martial artist] Madison Square Garden tournaments, Cliff wouldn’t stand a chance against [him]. But as a killer, who has killed men before in a jungle, he’d kill Bruce Lee. He’d fucking kill him. Bruce Lee is not a killer. Bruce Lee’s never really let loose on anybody, he’s always had to keep it together in a martial artists tournament kind of way. If he’s facing a guy who could actually kill him? It’s a different story.”

as someone who's from Chinese heritage, I don't mind the way the movie did Bruce Lee. I don't love it, but I don't hate it either. I feel it should be a little more even in terms of the result instead of what it was. but in any case, it's an "alternative" timeline sorta thing, so I don't mind it that much. the movie is still ace in my book even with that little spot of blemish.
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The anecdote about Bruce Lee hitting people for real on set is believable. Remember the scene when Bruce kicked Bob Wall in Enter the Dragon?

One of the guys behind Wall had his arm broken from the impact!

That said, I don't think Bruce was a complete dick to stuntmen. One stunt guy on Enter the Dragon accidently got brained by Bruce using the nunchucks. That stuntman was a young Jackie Chan, and he mentions how Bruce was horrified by what he did and helped him recover.
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I didn't hate the scene, but at the same time I thought Once upon a time in Hollywood was largely terrible as far as movies go. QT has a knack for great scenes and memorable characters but honestly, he peaked with Pulp Fiction and ever since then he's been sniffing his own self-indulgent farts.
Oh mo a fictional movie portrays someone who 99% of the world doesnt know in a fictional manner. How dare a movie director direct actors in service of the story.
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I'd argue that Jackie Brown is a better movie than Pulp Fiction, but otherwise I agree.

I Like JB, but it was an adapted work from Elmore Leonard versus an original, which is why I'd put Pulp Fiction higher. However, I'm glad to see I'm not alone in being less than impressed with QTs output overall.
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Good for him (and anyone) telling critics and crybabies to go fuck themselves. In theory film is art. Art doesn't give two shits about anyone but the artist's feelings. If it offends you, its your problem.

Side Note: I agree that Tarentino has been on the decline since Pulp Fiction. Kill Bill had parts that were great, but overall incredibly flawed production. But hey this is Hollywood where making careers out of one hit wonders is SOP.
Do you know whose family probably (understandably) hates that film?

Sharon Tate

They'd prefer a movie where she brutally gets murdered at the end? He said the film was a fairy tale and had a fairy tale ending, film was kinda in love with Tate, to be honest.
They'd prefer a movie where she brutally gets murdered at the end? He said the film was a fairy tale and had a fairy tale ending, film was kinda in love with Tate, to be honest.
I'm sure it's not easy to see an 'alt history' where your family member ISN'T brutally murdered like she was in real life. And two dudes comically defeat the monsters that killed her.

I just mean the Lee family are being a bunch of farnsworths.
They'd prefer a movie where she brutally gets murdered at the end? He said the film was a fairy tale and had a fairy tale ending, film was kinda in love with Tate, to be honest.
I might be wrong but I'm pretty sure her sister still goes to all the hearings and makes statements etc