Quentin Tarantino Responds To Criticisms Of Bruce Lee Portrayal

Bruce Lee
Image Credit: Warner Brothers/Getty Images

Recently, the on-screen portrayal of Bruce Lee in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” has come under extreme scrutiny.

UFC Octagon commentator Joe Rogan recently offered his take that Tarantino portrayed Lee as far too foolish in the hit film. During a recent episode of his podcast, Rogan suggested they made the brilliant Lee look like ‘a buffoon’:

“He was a philosopher and he’s brilliant. But when it comes to actual toughness, we don’t know. And you’ve heard that narrative before — that he’s not an actual tough guy.

“The problem was they made him look like a buffoon. There was no evidence that he was a buffoon…It’s a movie about a real person who has a real legacy and a bunch of people love him.”

Lee’s Daughter’s Stance

In that sense, he echoed the stance of Lee’s daughter Shannon. She’s spoken out against the movie on social media since its release. But she was a bit more forceful in her words. Lee’s daughter took the stance that Tarantino made her father seem like an ‘arrogant a**hole’ and not the man who, as a minority in Hollywood, had to work hard to become a star:

“[My father] 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.”

Tarantino Finally Responds

Tarantino had largely remained quiet on the subject; that is, until now. Speaking up during a recent press event in Moscow (via NerdCoreMovement.com), Tarantino stood by his decision to portray Lee like he did. He insisted Lee did, in fact, claim he could defeat Muhammad Ali just like he did in the film. Doubters need only look at his wife Linda’s biography to find that:

“Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy. 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 that.”

A Fictional Character

The famed Hollywood director then dove deeper into his thoughts on the subject. In the film, Brad Pitt’s character, fictional stunt man Cliff Booth, fights Lee to a stalemate of sorts on a movie set. Many were baffled that the result came against the man many consider to be the father of modern mixed martial arts (MMA). Yet Tarantino pointed out that Booth was a fictional character whose backstory was that of a decorated military man.

So his background was different than Lee’s. Based on that, Tarantino acknowledged that Lee would beat Booth in martial arts. In a real-life war setting, however, Booth would murder the revered Lee:

“It’s a fictional character. If I say Cliff can beat Bruce Lee up, he’s a fictional character then he could beat Bruce Lee up. The reality of the situation is this: Cliff is a Green Beret. He has killed many, many men in WWII in hand-to-hand combat. He is a killer. What Bruce Lee is talking about in the whole thing is that he admires warriors. He admires combat, and boxing is a closer approximation of combat as a sport. Cliff is not part of the sport that is like combat, he is a warrior. He is a combat person.

“If Cliff were fighting Bruce Lee in a martial arts tournament in Madison Square Garden, Bruce would kill him. But if Cliff and Bruce were fighting in the jungles of the Philippines in a hand-to-hand combat fight, Cliff would kill him.”

Do you agree with Quentin Tarantino’s response to the many critics of how he portrayed Lee?