Tarantino has responded to the backlash against the late martial artist’s appearance in the film.
Previously, Lee’s daughter, Shannon, said that the late martial arts icon portrayal “was like a caricature of himself and made him look stupid, silly and made to be insultingly ‘Chinesey.'”
“He comes across as an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air,” she said. “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.”
However, Tarantino has defended Lee’s portrayal in the film and the fight scene between him and Brad Pitt‘s Cliff Booth.
“Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy,” Tarantino said during a Moscow press conference via Indiewire. “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.”
The director then addressed the fight between Pitt and Lee (who’s portrayed by Mike Moh).
“Could Cliff beat up Bruce Lee? Brad would not be able to beat up Bruce Lee, but Cliff maybe could,” Tarantino said before continuing:
“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.”
Moh also defended his fight scene against Pitt and called the scene “hugely important.”
“In the film it was a challenge — ‘best two out of three.’ I got the first point — I knocked him on his ass first. And Bruce at that time was so cocky and maybe got a little excited and he didn’t know Cliff Booth has killed dozens of people with his bare hands — and that’s what people may not realize up until that moment in the film,” he said. “It’s a hugely important scene — what better way to show how dangerous Cliff is than for him to show up and even match him for a little bit with Bruce?”
Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is Tarantino’s tenth film.