Harsh Words for Portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019)

Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter, is not pleased with the portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), Quentin Tarantino’s newest movie. The daughter of the late martial arts master, shared how disheartening it was to see what she described as the “mockery” Tarantino’s film made of her father.

Bruce Lee was a martial artist, actor, director, and philosopher, and one of many real-life icons featured in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), a film that explores Los Angeles in 1969 around the time of the horrendous Manson Family murders. Martial artist and Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist (2014) actor, Mike Moh portrays Bruce Lee in the film playing opposite Brad Pitt’s fictional stuntman character Cliff Booth in a scene on the set of the real action-adventure television series The Green Hornet. A battle between the two insues backstage as others look on. Lee wins the first round of the fight, and then Booth shoves Lee against a car in the second. The third round is interrupted.

Shannon Lee spoke to The Wrap saying:

“I can understand all the reasoning behind what is portrayed in the movie. I understand that the two characters are antiheroes and this is sort of like a rage fantasy of what would happen…I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super bad-ass who could beat up Bruce Lee. But they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.”

Shannon later speculated that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) might have been attempting to offer commentary on how Hollywood falsely stereotyped Lee, but she felt that Tarantino failed on that front. Shannon made it clear that Bruce Lee was not interested in fighting outside of martial arts, and that he actively avoided conflict:

“He comes across as an arrogant a–hole 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…It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father.”

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Shannon also pointed out that there was an inaccuracy in the portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019) with his physical appearance. Lee was shown with sunglasses and a haircut characteristic of the 1970s, but Bruce Lee appeared in The Green Hornet when it aired between 1967 and 1968.

When her fatehr passed away in 1973, Shannon, was only four years old and she has worked very hard to keep her fathers true legacy alive through the website BruceLee.com, a podcast, and the Bruce Lee Foundation. She continued to share that:

“What I’m interested in is raising the consciousness of who Bruce Lee was as a human being and how he lived his life…All of that was flushed down the toilet in this portrayal.”

Shannon Lee didn’t find fault in Mike Moh’s performance as her late father, she even praised Moh for capturing Lee’s mannerisms and voice. She stated that she believes that Mike was “directed to be a caricature”. It was especially difficult for Shannon to see the way her father was portrayed because other real-life celebrities in the film were characterized but not mocked.

It wasn’t just Shannon Lee who took issue with Bruce Lee’s portrayal in the Tarantino-directed film. Matthew Polly, author of Bruce Lee: A Life told The Wrap that he had his own issues with Lee’s depiction:

“Bruce revered Muhammad Ali; he never trash-talked him in real life. Bruce never used jumping kicks in an actual fight. And even if he did, there wasn’t a stuntman in Hollywood fast enough to catch his leg and throw him into a car.”

Though his directorial license didn’t sit well with Shannon Lee, Matthew Polly and many others, Quentin Tarantino does have a penchant for revising history and clearly continued to do so in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019).

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