Quentin Tarantino defends "Hollywood" Bruce Lee fight from claims it mocks the late action star

Tarantino's depiction of Lee in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" has become the film's most controversial topic

By Zack Sharf

Published August 12, 2019 5:30PM (EDT)

Quentin Tarantino speaks during a press conference for the film "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" at the 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 22, 2019 (Getty/Sébastien Berda)
Quentin Tarantino speaks during a press conference for the film "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" at the 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 22, 2019 (Getty/Sébastien Berda)

This article originally appeared on IndieWire.

Quentin Tarantino broke his silence on the backlash to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” during the film’s recent Moscow press conference. One of the biggest points of controversy surrounding the film is the scene in which Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) fight each other on the set of “The Green Hornet.” Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon, condemned Tarantino for portraying the martial arts legend as an “arrogant asshole who was full of hot air,” while Lee’s protégé Dan Inosanto said the film did not accurately portray the late action star. Inosanto pointed to a line in Tarantino’s script where Bruce Lee makes a dig at Muhammad Ali and said Lee “would have never said anything derogatory about Muhammad Ali because he worshiped the ground Muhammad Ali walked on.”

“Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy,” Tarantino told press about depicting the actor in such a cocky manner. “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 Mohammad Ali,’ well yeah he did. Alright? Not only did he say that but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read. She absolutely said that.”

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Bruce Lee fans have also taken Tarantino to task for the outcome of the fight scene. Bruce challenges Cliff to a three round fight, easily winning the first round by kicking Cliff to the floor within seconds. Cliff takes the second round in more brutal fashion by throwing Bruce into the side of a car. The two are neck and neck in the third round when the fight is broken up. There’s no actual winner of the fight, although many found it distasteful that Tarantino could diminish Bruce Lee’s fighting skills by having him thrown into a car by Cliff.

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“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, ‘Who would win in a fight: Bruce Lee or Dracula?’ It’s the same question. It’s a fictional character. If I say Cliff can beat Bruce Lee up, he’s a fictional character so he could beat Bruce Lee up. The reality of the situation is this: Cliff is a Green Beret. He has killed many men in WWII in hand to hand combat. 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.”

Tarantino summed up the fight by adding, “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.”

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“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is now playing in theaters.

Zack Sharf

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