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Tarantino Defends Depiction of Bruce Lee in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’

Director Quentin Tarantino appears at the premiere of "Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood" at CineStar on August 1, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. (Credit: Gisela Schober/Getty Images)

Director Quentin Tarantino appears at the premiere of "Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood" at CineStar on August 1, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. (Credit: Gisela Schober/Getty Images)

Quentin Tarantino has come under fire for the depiction of martial arts legend Bruce Lee in his new film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Lee’s daughter, Shannon, told the Los Angeles Times that “the script treatment of my father as this arrogant, egotistical punching bag was really disheartening — and, I feel, unnecessary.”

Shannon Lee said her mother, Linda, told her, “I thought the character was like a caricature of himself and made him look stupid, silly and made to be insultingly ‘Chinesey.’ It strayed so far from the truth of who he was and of any actual encounter he had,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

During a news conference for the film in Moscow on August 7, Tarantino defended his portrayal of Lee.

“Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy,” Tarantino said. “I didn’t just make a lot of that up. I heard him say things like that, to that effect. People are saying, ‘Well, he never said he could beat up Muhammad Ali.’ Uh, yeah, he did. Not only did he say that, his wife, Linda Lee, said that. In the first biography I ever read was Linda Lee’s ‘Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew,’ and she absolutely said it.”

“He was never, in my opinion, cocky,” Lee’s former training partner, Dan Inosanto, said in an interview with Variety. “Maybe he was cocky in as far as martial arts because he was very sure of himself. He was worlds ahead of everyone else. But on a set, he’s not gonna show off.”

Brad Pitt’s character in the film, Cliff Booth, is a stuntman who stages a best-of-three fight with Lee during a break from filming the “Green Hornet” TV show. Lee is able to win the first round, but Booth wins the second when he throws Lee into a car. The fight is broken up, and a winner is never decided.

“Could Cliff beat up Bruce Lee? Brad would not be able to beat up Bruce Lee, but Cliff maybe could,” Tarantino said. “If you ask me the question, ‘Well, who would win in a fight: Bruce Lee or Dracula?’ It’s the same question. It’s a fictional character. If I say Cliff could beat Bruce Lee up, he’s a fictional character, then he could beat Bruce Lee up.”

Tarantino also talked about Booth’s experience as a Green Beret killing people in hand-to-hand combat in World War II, using that to further justify Booth’s superiority over Lee in combat.

He says that Lee would beat Booth in a martial arts tournament in Madison Square Garden but that if they were fighting in the “jungles of the Philippines in a hand-to-hand combat fight, Cliff would kill him.”

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