TARANTINO Defends BRUCE LEE Characterization in ONCE UPON IN HOLLYWOOD

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Close to three weeks now in cinemas worldwide, the supposedly penultimate film directed by Quentin Tarantino for Sony and Columbia Pictures has continued to make bank and impress most critics that have viewed it. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, was hailed as a love letter to the 1960s, particularly Los Angeles and the Hollywood film industry of the time, while also messing with historical events in a surreal manner. But even this movie is not devoid of critics, and one element in particular has got some viewers upset, though Tarantino himself has defended said story element.

CNN has it that Quentin Tarantino spoke in support for his portrayal of legendary Hollywood-Hong Kong artist Bruce Lee, who appears briefly played by Mike Moh on one scene in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Recently family members of the late Kung-Fu icon have called out the treatment of Lee in the movie that comes across as arrogant, boasting of his martial skill and acting in a “stereotypically Chinese” manner. The scene in question sees Moh’s Lee picking a fight with Brad Pitt’s character, ex-Green Beret and film stuntman Cliff, resulting in some property damage before they are separated.

In response to criticism of the on-screen Bruce Lee’s arrogance as described by his daughter Shannon Lee, Tarantino justifies that the actor was prone to bouts of cockiness. For instance, his boast that he could beat also-late boxing legend Muhammad Ali in a fight was something Tarantino quoted in a biography written by Bruce’s widow, Linda Lee. “Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy,” the director insisted during a news conference for “Hollywood” in Moscow. “I didn’t just make a lot of that up. I heard him say things like that, to that effect.”

The movie scene shows Cliff Booth (Pitt) answering a challenge by Bruce Lee (Moh), leading to a physical fight where Lee wins the first round. The second round sees Booth “winning” by throwing Lee into a parked car, but bystanders intervene before they could continue.

Quentin Tarantino notes that, essentially, the story told in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” despite the presence of real-life characters, is fiction. The fact that Brad Pitt’s character could throw down with a Kung-Fu master could be attributed to his role’s fictional backstory of a military career. Mike Moh himself sees that, despite “his” Lee’s impact with the car, the character might have still been able to beat Booth if they were not interrupted.

Tarantino’s “historical fiction” argument regarding Bruce Lee could hold some water considering how the ending of “Hollywood” sees the main characters preventing the real-life murder of actress Sharon Tate (Robbie) by the Manson family. The film is still currently showing.

Image: South China Morning Post

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