Bruce Lee’s daughter has heard enough from Quentin Tarantino, thank you very much. It’s time for the director to be quiet or be apologetic.
“He could shut up about it,” Shannon Lee said when asked by Variety about how the director could quell the brouhaha over Bruce Lee’s portrayal in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” which has topped $110 million at the box office since opening July 26.
The martial-arts icon’s depiction in the film, set in 1969 Hollywood, has been criticized as “disrespectful” and “a mockery” of the late Lee’s legacy. Lee is shown as a cocky man who brags that his fists are “registered as lethal weapons” and that he could “cripple” Muhammad Ali, only to be thrown into the side of a car by Brad Pitt’s stuntman character, Cliff Booth..
“While I understand that the mechanism in the story is to make Brad Pitt’s character out to be such a badass that he can beat up Bruce Lee, the script treatment of my father as this arrogant, egotistical punching bag was really disheartening — and, I feel, unnecessary,” Shannon Lee told The Times in July, adding that Tarantino seemed to have “gone out of the way to make fun of my father and to portray him as kind of a buffoon.”
The martial artist’s daughter is chief executive of the Bruce Lee Family Co. and heads her father’s namesake charity.
Talking to Variety on Wednesday, she also offered Tarantino other options to make things right.
"[H]e could apologize or he could say, ‘I don’t really know what Bruce Lee was like. I just wrote it for my movie,’” she said. “But that shouldn’t be taken as how he really was.”
Tarantino spoke up in defense of his portrayal last week at a Moscow press event, labeling Bruce Lee “kind of an arrogant guy.”
“The way he was talking, I didn’t just make a lot of that up,” Tarantino said. “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 director, now 56, was 10 when Bruce Lee died in July 1973.
Tarantino said that while Pitt couldn’t beat up Lee, maybe stuntman Booth 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.”
Lee’s training partner Dan Inosanto also countered Tarantino’s vision, though he hadn’t seen the film at the time he initially spoke. (Shannon Lee had seen it.)
“He was never, in my opinion, cocky,” Inosanto told Variety. “Maybe he was cocky in as far as martial arts because he was very sure of himself. He was worlds ahead of everyone else. But on a set, he’s not gonna show off.”
Lee’s family has a history of defending his reputation and memory. The martial artist’s widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, took issue with her late husband’s portrayal in an August 1998 piece by the L.A. Times marking the 25th anniversary of his death. She accused the paper of “sensationalizing the life and death of an extraordinarily gifted human being.”
“I am not purporting that Bruce was a perfect human being, only one that did more good than harm in his short time on this Earth,” Cadwell wrote in a letter the The Times. “He faced many obstacles in his life — overcoming racist attitudes, surviving dire economic circumstances, surmounting physical injuries — and in so doing distinguished himself as someone to be rightfully admired and emulated.”