Bruce Lee’s legacy ‘flushed down the toilet’ by Quentin Tarantino in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’, says daughter

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  • Shannon Lee says her father comes across as arrogant – ‘not someone who had to work triple as hard to accomplish what was given to many others’
  • ‘It was uncomfortable to sit in the theatre and listen to people laugh at my father’

Bruce Lee’s daughter has hit out at Quentin Tarantino’s portrayal of her father in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, saying he comes across as an “arrogant a******”.

Tarantino’s latest film (be warned, spoilers lie ahead) sees Brad Pitt’s rugged stuntman character Cliff Booth get the better of Lee, played by Mike Moh, in a best-of-three-rounds fight on the set of television show The Green Hornet.

Lee knocks Booth down in the first “round”, but Booth slams him into a car door in the second round. The fight is interrupted before the third round, but it is heavily implied Booth has got the better of a stunned Lee.

 “I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super bad a** 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,” Shannon Lee, who was not consulted by Tarantino for the film
, told entertainment news website The Wrap.
Mike Moh and Brad Pitt arrive for the premiere of ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX in Los Angeles. Photo: EPA
Mike Moh and Brad Pitt arrive for the premiere of ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX in Los Angeles. Photo: EPA

ABC show The Green Hornet, on which a masked Lee played sidekick Kato, gave him a foot in the door before he became a martial arts superstar.

It came at a time in 1969 – the year the film is set – that Lee was searching for his big break in Hollywood, battling against stereotypes as an Asian actor who was looking for roles in an industry dominated by muscle-bound white men.

Why Quentin Tarantino’s use of Bruce Lee in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is problematic

Shannon Lee heads the Bruce Lee foundation and estate, and is executive producer on HBO series Warrior, which is based on her father’s writings.

Lee is said to have pitched the idea of a television show based on an Asian martial artist in the Old West in 1971. Skittish Hollywood executives passed and instead made Kung Fu, which featured white actor David Carradine playing a Shaolin monk and martial arts expert who flees China after his master is killed to defend the helpless in the Old West.

“I can understand all the reasoning behind what is portrayed in the movie,” Shannon Lee said. “I understand that the two characters are anti-heroes and this is sort of like a rage fantasy of what would happen … and they’re portraying a period of time that clearly had a lot of racism and exclusion.”

Shannon Lee poses in front of a promotional poster for Lee’s memorial exhibition at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in 2013. Photo: AP
Shannon Lee poses in front of a promotional poster for Lee’s memorial exhibition at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in 2013. Photo: AP

Lee and Booth also trade cocky insults in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood before agreeing to the informal fight. Shannon Lee said her father was often challenged to fights but always tried to avoid them.

“He [Lee] comes across as an arrogant a****** who was full of hot air,” she said. “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.”

“Here, he’s the one with all the puffery and he’s the one challenging Brad Pitt. Which is not how he was,” she said.

Mike Moh plays Bruce Lee in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’. Photo: Handout
Mike Moh plays Bruce Lee in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’. Photo: Handout

Shannon Lee said she had no problem with Moh’s portrayal of her father in the film, and thinks he got down some of his mannerisms and his voice, but she also felt he was directed to be a caricature.

“It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theatre and listen to people laugh at my father,” she said.

“What I’m interested in is raising the consciousness of who Bruce Lee was as a human being and how he lived his life,” she said. “All of that was flushed down the toilet in this portrayal, and made my father into this arrogant punching bag.”

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