Quentin Tarantino is making the press rounds to promote his novelization of his Oscar-winning film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and the topic of the controversial scene with Bruce Lee was brought-up while speaking on the Joe Rogan podcast (via THR). Many people including Lee’s own daughter Shannon Lee took the fictional scene as disrespectful to the late actor, as it pretty much only showed him as being a boastful loud-mouth.
“I can understand his daughter having a problem with it, it’s her fucking father, I get that. But anybody else [can] go suck a dick. If you look at it, it’s obvious Cliff tricked him, that’s how he was able to [beat him,] it’s explained a bit more in the book,” Tarantino said of backlash towards the sequence.
Tarantino then cited Matthew Polly’s book Bruce Lee: A Life as one of the reasons for fictionalized match on the set of Green Hornet, “The stuntmen hated Bruce on The Green Hornet, it’s in Matthew Polly’s book. Bruce had nothing but disrespect for American stuntmen and was always hitting them. He was always tagging them with his feet and his fists and it got to the point where they refused to work with them.”
This isn’t a new revelation, as the filmmaker previously said that folks like Cliff Booth saw actors like Bruce Lee, who do their own stunts, as a threat to their business. A sort of changing of the guard and shift in the industry. It’s possible that Quentin Tarantino could have spent a little more time explaining that background perspective, tension with the stunt team, and potentially could have gave the characterization of Bruce Lee more scenes to establish that his time working on Green Hornet wasn’t actually pleasant for him.
His horrible experience working in Hollywood isn’t news to people that have followed the career of Bruce Lee. The legendary actor/martial artist (born in San Francisco) ultimately left Hollywood to pursue a second film career in Hong Kong as his options in America were limited being a man with Asian/Eurasian background. Bruce had been a child actor in Hong Kong before leaving for the United States. His first breakout role was in the 1950 film The Kid that he starred alongside his father, Lee Hoi-Chuen, a comic book film of all things.
One of the last straws was his horrible experience working in the television industry and after being mistreated on The Green Hornet, he attempted to land his own series with Kung Fu and the role of Kwai Chang Caine was ultimately gifted to a young David Carradine (Kill Bill) because of his famous father, John Carradine. Despite Carradine having zero experience with martial arts when he was hired, an obvious slight to Lee to hire a white actor to play an Asian character and felt he could have more success overseas.
Bruce Lee was indeed a headstrong personality as he famously ignored Chinese traditions by teaching westerners martial arts and writing books about the subject in English. This was seen as an act of hostility towards the martial arts community and caused lots of tension as he starred in Hong Kong films that essentially launched the Kung Fu film genre’s popularity in the United States. However, by most accounts Bruce was an intelligent, inclusive, and loving human being.
It’s also worth noting that Jackie Chan, who worked as a stunt man for Bruce Lee had nothing but kinds words about his experiences. And even recalls Bruce’s reaction when he accidentally struck him during their scenes together on Enter The Dragon.
Tarantino could have been a lot more tactful with his portrayal, for sure.