Bruce Lee's Friend Says Tarantino's Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood Disrespects Him

Photo: Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures.

Update, August 18, 2019: A close friend of Bruce Lee's has derided Quentin Tarantino's portrayal of Lee as "sloppy and somewhat racist."

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Retired NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who starred in 1973's Game Of Death with Lee, wrote in The Hollywood Reporter that Lee's scenes in Once Upon A Time In...Hollywood were "disappointing, not so much on a factual basis, but as a lapse of cultural awareness" and said that the scene between Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth and Lee portrayed the kind of stereotype Lee was fighting.

"First rule of Bruce’s fight club was don’t fight — unless there is no other option," Abdul-Jabbar wrote. "He felt no need to prove himself. He knew who he was and that the real fight wasn’t on the mat, it was on the screen in creating opportunities for Asians to be seen as more than grinning stereotypes.

Update, August 13, 2019: Quentin Tarantino is defending his portrayal of martial arts legend Bruce Lee. A side character in Once Upon a Time In ...Hollywood, Lee, who died in 1973, was portrayed as a cocky and talkative character, ready to show of his skills at the drop of a hat. To Lee's daughter Shannon, she felt that her father was played off as a "caricature."

Tarantino says that is what he was going for, offering little apology during a press event promoting his film in Russia. "Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy," Tarantino said, ET reports. "The way he was talking, I didn't just make a lot of that up. I heard him say things like that, to that effect. If people are saying, 'Well, he never said he could beat up Muhammad Ali,' well, yeah, he did. Not only did he say that, but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read. ... She absolutely said it."

Tarantino elaborated: "Brad [Pitt] would not be able to beat up Bruce Lee, but Cliff [Booth, Pitt's character] maybe could. If you ask me the question, 'Who would win in a fight: Bruce Lee or Dracula?' It's the same question. It's a fictional character. If I say Cliff can beat Bruce Lee up, he's a fictional character, so he could beat Bruce Lee up."

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When sharing her criticism of her father's portrayal Shannon pointed out what she felt was a missed opportunity by Tarantino. "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," she told The Wrap earlier this month. "He could have achieved the same effect -- using Bruce to make Brad Pitt's character look tough -- without the mockery."

Original story follows.

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood may be certified fresh, but not everyone is a fan. Specifically, Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee.

Shannon spoke out against the portrayal of her late father upon OUATIH’s release, saying she was “uncomfortable” that the legendary martial artist was depicted as nothing more than a “caricature.”

“He comes across as an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air,” Shannon told The Wrap. “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.”

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In OUATIH, Bruce Lee, played by Mike Moh, faces off with Brad Pitt’s fictional stuntman, Cliff Booth. Bruce’s character brags that his hands are registered as “lethal weapons” and that he could beat boxing champ Cassius Clay, otherwise known as Muhammad Ali, in a fight. All this before Booth slams Bruce into a car, much to his surprise.

“I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super badass who could beat up Bruce Lee,” Shannon says. “But they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.”

She also called out the scene’s factuality, noting that her father frequently avoided getting into fights with those who challenged him. Nonetheless, Shannon, who is chief executive of the Bruce Lee Family Company, doesn’t blame Moh for Bruce’s depiction in the film.

“I’ve met Mike and I know that he loves my father and he’s a working actor, and I really hold no negativity toward him whatsoever,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

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