Bruce Lee mockery in Tarantino film angers Chinese

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 2, 2019
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The depiction of Chinese kung fu icon Bruce Lee in Quentin Tarantino's new film "Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood" has been described as a "caricature" by Lee's daughter, amid an outcry by Chinese fans. 

In an interview with TheWrap on July 29, Shannon Lee said it was "disheartening" to see how the renowned Hollywood director depicts her father as "an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air."

In the film, Brad Pitt plays a role of stuntman Cliff Booth who fights a blowhard-like Bruce Lee, played by the Korean American actor Mike Moh, on the set of "The Green Hornet" TV show. Booth is knocked down in the first round but then slams Lee into a car in the second.

A still shows Cliff Booth, played by actor Brad Pitt, fighting Bruce Lee, played by actor Mike Moh, on the set of "Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood." [Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures]

Bruce Lee biographer Matthew Polly said the scene was impossible, "Bruce never used jumping kicks in an actual fight. And even if he did, there wasn't a stuntman in Hollywood fast enough to catch his leg and throw him into a car."

He denied Lee had ever trash-talked Muhammad Ali, portrayed in the film in an argument that leads to the fight with Booth. "Given how sympathetic Tarantino's portrayal of Steve McQueen, Jay Sebring, and Sharon Tate is, I'm surprised he didn't afford the same courtesy to Lee, the only non-white character in the film," the writer added.

"It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father," Shannon Lee said after seeing the film on Sunday, because in truth, as a Chinese in 1960s Hollywood, Bruce Lee had to work much harder to succeed than did white actors.

"I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super bad-ass 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," she added.

The mockery of Bruce Lee travelled fast to China and angered local fans. On social networks such as the micro-blogging Sina Weibo, the hashtag topic of Bruce Lee's daughter disheartened with 'Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood'" has been viewed more than 300 times with the furious comments pointing an accusatory finger at the film and defending Lee, a China's cultural pride.

"Even as a normal fan who doesn't know much about Lee, I felt really uncomfortable after seeing the scene in the film," Zhen Bengbeng from told She had seen the film at its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2019.

Zhen noted another scene showing Lee training Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie), which is true, as the late kung fu star taught martial arts to some of Hollywood's biggest names, including Steve McQueen, Sharon Tate and her husband Roman Polanski.

"Generally speaking, this film is not as I expected, and it's a disappointment to me," she added.

"Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood" tells a story of a fading television actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double (Brad Pitt) striving to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood's Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles. 

Director Tarantino is seen as a big admirer of Chinese film and culture, and called himself a "huge Bruce Lee fan" in an interview with Chinese media in May at the Cannes Film Festival. "Bruce Lee was not trying to hurt anybody, but he has some arrogance about him. If I was Bruce Lee, I would be arrogant, too," he said in describing his own perspective. 

Tarantino also paid clear tribute to Lee in his "Kill Bill" movies where actress Uma Thurman dresses like Lee in his last film "The Game of Death" (1978). According to actor Mike Moh, Tarantino even wore his Bruce Lee shirt and yellow jumpsuit when he showed up to direct the scene for "Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood."

However, to Lee's daughter, that's not enough. "I actually don't think he is (a huge fan)," she told the Los Angeles Times. "What I think is that he's a fan of things that kick ass in a cool way. I think he is a fan of my father's style, of the way he was in his films. I'm not sure he really knows much about him as a human being or his philosophy."

She also revealed that her mother, Linda Lee Cadwell, had told her: "I thought the character was like a caricature of him and made him look stupid, silly and made to be insultingly 'Chinesey'. It strayed so far from the truth of who he was and of any actual encounter he had...It was terrible to watch."

The chief executive of the Bruce Lee Family Co. now continues her father's legacy through and her Bruce Lee Podcast, as well as the Bruce Lee Foundation, to make the world today about her father's martial arts and philosophy. She is also the executive producer of the Cinemax action drama "Warrior", which is from an eight-page treatment for a TV series her father wrote.

It is not known if the backlash of "Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood" will affect the film's import into the Chinese market, as the film also involved investment by China's Bona Film Group. Tarantino, Sony Pictures and Bona have not yet responded to the controversy. 

"Django Unchained" was the first and only film by Quentin Tarantino imported into China. However, it was abruptly pulled from Chinese theaters on the debut day in April 2013 due to nudity scenes. The re-cut version was released in China a month later.

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