Quentin Tarantino is once again in the spotlight thanks to the release of his new film, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. In recreating the world of the movie industry in late '60s LA, Tarantino inevitably has to include a variety of famous figures who were on the scene at that time.
One of the most memorable scenes in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood involves Brad Pitt's stuntman Cliff Booth has a showdown with none other than Bruce Lee, after a bout of trash-talk during production on The Green Hornet TV series. The scene has generally been a standout with audiences, but one person who isn't liking it much is Bruce Lee's daughter, Shannon Lee.
Speaking with The Wrap, Shannon Lee said it was "It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father." She continued with her breakdown of why the scene disturbed her so much, noting:
"I can understand all the reasoning behind what is portrayed in the movie. I understand that the two characters are antiheroes 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.
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... [in the film] he's the one with all the puffery and he's the one challenging Brad Pitt. Which is not how he was... He comes across as an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air. 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."
Wait... what does she mean "those people"? In all seriousness though, it's unfortunate to hear that Shannon Lee was upset with how Once Upon a Time in Hollywood depicted her father. She even acknowledges that Tarantino could've been making the point that Lee was often treated with disrespect of his martial arts prowess by white America, but says the scene fails to elevate that point over getting a few laughs at Lee's expense.
In my own experience watching the film (read my full review HERE), the scene between Pitt and actor Mike Moh as Bruce Lee isn't really about Lee at all, one way or another. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood makes a motif out of using real-life icons or celebrities as prompts or metaphors that tangentally help propel the fictional character stories of Pitt's Cliff Booth and Leo DiCaprio's Rick Dalton. The most glaring case of this is Margot Robbie in the role of Sharon Tate, which had the potential to be far more controversial and upsetting than how the film incorporates Bruce Lee. Instead, Tarantino uses the Sharon Tate story to remind us that a movie can be the fantasy that reality never lived up to; Bruce Lee's part in that puzzle is basically being the iconic standard that demonstrates Cliff's prowess as a fighter - a key foreshadow for the film's third act surprises.
Maybe with time and distance, Shannon Lee will see things differently; but then again, maybe not. Tarantino has a way of resurrecting stars of the past in his movies, so who knows, maybe this scene will lead to an entire Bruce Lee revival that his daughter could be proud of?
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is now in theaters.