Last year's Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood might have been one of the year's biggest critical hits, but ever since audiences got their first look at Mike Moh's portrayal of Bruce Lee in the film, the project has earned backlash from fans disappointed with the real-life figure being portrayed so cartoonishly, with actor Jason Scott Lee noting how he "winced" at the depiction. Lee played the martial arts icon in the biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, noting that his extensive research of the figure to prepare for the project gave him insight into who Lee was in the real world, though he doesn't blame Moh for the interpretation.
"While I was training, I started learning his system of fighting and actually feeling the motions that he taught his students," Lee shared with The Hollywood Reporter. "I realized so much about the precision and the discipline of a person like that, and that’s why it was very hard for me to watch that scene with Mike Moh portraying Bruce. Granted, Mike’s a great actor, but I think being put in that position to portray Bruce Lee that way was really hard to take. I kind of winced. Yeah, he was boastful, but he was one of those guys that could back it up. He wasn’t challenging that way, you know? He had so much confidence and expertise about himself that he knew he could really hurt somebody."
He added, "And then, you look at the fight scene and you go, 'Ehhhhh…' It’s like, 'I know that’s not how Bruce would move.' So [Tarantino] took a lot of creative leeway in presenting Bruce Lee in that manner, and he got a lot of flack for it. And it’s not justified the way he did it."
Lee's appearance in Once Upon a Time was brief, but the scene made a major impact on audiences. Much like any Tarantino film, the project drew controversy for a number of reasons, with another signature of the filmmaker being the ways in which it fictionalized real people. The film may have featured Charles Manson and Sharon Tate, but the finale was altered so that Tate survived the night of horrible attacks.
Despite the obvious heightening of reality, Lee noted how one of Bruce Lee's former students would be "rolling over in his grave" over the representation.
"My sifu, Jerry Poteet, who was a student of Bruce, has since passed away, but I know he would be rolling over in his grave," the actor joked. "He had direct association through a long-term teacher-student relationship with Bruce, and I used to hear stories upon stories throughout my time. I spent 15-plus years with Jerry, who ended up being my sifu after the Dragon project. So I’m really pretty clear on who the man was and what his affect was with his students. When I met Jerry to train me for Dragon, he was 55, and I was 25-26. So, through the years of knowing Jerry and hearing all the stories and details, I’m sure it would’ve pissed him off."3comments
Jason Scott Lee can currently be seen in the live-action adaptation of Mulan. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood was Tarantino's ninth film, with the director claiming he only plans to helm a total of 10 movies.
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