The Nerd Side Of Life

It’s Tarantino vs. The World On His Portrayal Of Bruce Lee

Here were are again for another installment of who has Quentin Tarantino pissed off now?

Another Tarantino movie, another controversy. This time around a few have raised their voices expressing disdain for the director’s portrayal of Bruce Lee in his latest release, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

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Allow me to bring you up to speed… during Once Upon A Time there is a scene where Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is challenged to a fight by Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). But before the bows are thrown, Lee has a monologue that makes the character come off as arrogant and assholey. Then Cliff calls him out, the rumble begins, and Zoe Bell’s car gets messed up.

Apparently this little cinematic chain of events has got people a few tweets away from getting the pitchforks and torches. But others have taken to a more civilized approach to emotional expression, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Yes, that Kareem Abdul Jabbar, he wrote a piece for The Hollywood Reporter going after Tarantino’s choice in character direction.

“That’s why filmmakers have a responsibility when playing with people’s perceptions of admired historic people to maintain a basic truth about the content of their character. Quentin Tarantino’s portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood does not live up to this standard. Of course, Tarantino has the artistic right to portray Bruce any way he wants. But to do so in such a sloppy and somewhat racist way is a failure both as an artist and as a human being,” Jabbar said in his writing.

A couple paragraphs later, Jabbar provides commentary on the absurdness of the scene itself.

“That’s why it disturbs me that Tarantino chose to portray Bruce in such a one-dimensional way. The John Wayne machismo attitude of Cliff (Brad Pitt), an aging stuntman who defeats the arrogant, uppity Chinese guy harks back to the very stereotypes Bruce was trying to dismantle. Of course the blond, white beefcake American can beat your fancy Asian chopsocky dude because that foreign crap doesn’t fly here.”

Jabbar’s views are shared by others and don’t get me wrong, Tarantino has been pressed on the issue. While on a press tour for the film, QT mounted the following defense of his decision stating 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 it.”

The coverage, again from The Hollywood Reporter details another argument where QT establishes himself as the master of his domain.

“Could Cliff beat up Bruce Lee? Brad would not be able to beat up Bruce Lee, but Cliff maybe could. 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.”

What was Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee’s response to that? She told Variety Tarantino can “shut up” while adding “that would be really nice. Or he could apologize or he could say, I don’t really know what Bruce Lee was like. I just wrote it for my movie. But that shouldn’t be taken as how he really was.”

Yeah… people are pissed. In the true Tarantino fashion he managed to make a very small piece of a film light a fire under the asses of a chunk of our general population.

Personally I’ve never seen footage of Bruce Lee being a regular guy. My experience has strictly with him has been through television or movies. So I’m not the best guy to judge the content of Lee’s character but I did find the scene to be enjoyable. I can see Kareem’s racial argument, it almost wouldn’t be a Tarantino movie without a racial driven controversy, however I cannot begin to fathom a solution. The racial criticisms have followed Tarantino his entire career and he seems to be exempt from any real harm to his success.

Which is a whole other story.

By Adam Chmielewski


Photo Credits- Sony

What do you think of Tarantino’s depiction of Bruce Lee? Let Nerdbot know in the comments!!

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