Tarantino defends interpretation of Bruce Lee in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

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Quentin Tarantino has retorted, in pointed fashion, to those who have criticised his use of Bruce Lee in his last film.

Spoilers within for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Some fruity (but somewhat redacted) language is also ahead. 

Quentin Tarantino is unrepentant when it comes to most of his creative decisions, especially the controversial ones. When it comes to his last film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, few moments were more contentious than the portrayal of beloved martial arts icon, Bruce Lee.

In the film, Lee is not only soundly defeated by Brad Pitt’s alpha-stuntman, Cliff Booth (technically they win a round each, but the battle doesn’t appear to be even at all), but he also comes off like a bullying, arrogant punk, an interpretation that many who worked with Lee have refuted.

Speaking on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Tarantino acknowledged that whilst Lee’s family might have the right to complain, nobody else does, stating “I can understand his daughter having a problem with it. It’s her f*****g father, alright, I get that. Everybody else: Go suck a lemon. ” (We should point out that Tarantino didn’t actually say ‘lemon’ at this point; we’ve elected to replace his choice of word with everybody’s favourite yellow fruit.)

Furthermore, Tarantino contends that the scene doesn’t besmirch Lee’s skills as a martial artist, rather that it simply shows he was outsmarted by Booth, who allowed Lee the first round so he could adapt to his style and make the martial artist overconfident:

“The thing about it is, it’s obvious that Cliff tricked him. That’s how he was able to do it. He tricked him. It’s explained more in the book, but the thing is, they do a two falls out of three contest. Cliff loves sh-t like that. And he has a method. And his method is to give the guy the first fall… He just tricked him. And Bruce realised he got tricked, and if he hadn’t been so vicious, he could have even appreciated it.”

Whilst the argument at least makes sense narratively, should you choose to accept it, Tarantino also claims that the portrayal of Lee as arrogant was also derived from reality, stating that “the stuntmen hated Bruce on Green Hornet. It’s in Matthew Polly’s book, and before that, it’s always been known. That’s why Gene LeBell was brought on, to teach Bruce respect for American stuntmen. Bruce had nothing but disrespect for stuntmen, and he was always hitting them… He was always tagging, it’s called tagging when you hit a stuntman for real… and it got to the point where they were like, ‘No, I refuse to work with him.”

So it doesn’t look like Tarantino will be asking for forgiveness anytime soon. But what else did we expect?


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