In Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, an actor playing Bruce Lee is depicted as taking on Brad Pitt in a fight… and losing. Now, Lee’s daughter Shannon has criticised the film’s director for its portrayal of her father.
According to the critics Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood requires a little suspension of disbelief.
This is because the movie asks audiences to sit back and enjoy a story set during the summer of 1969 – a story literally set on the infamous Cielo Drive – and have it not be about the Manson Murders at all. Because in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood the Manson Murders are peripheral to the story director Quentin Tarantino is telling about the fading star power of a movie star, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
But Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood also asks audiences for a little suspension of disbelief because it features a scene in which Cliff Booth, a stunt double played by Brad Pitt, is challenged to a fight by martial arts expert Bruce Lee. And he wins.
The scene, which featured heavily in the original teaser trailer for the film, initially drew controversy from those who felt that Lee’s presence in the movie as a character was tantamount to mockery. Now, with the movie on wide release in the US and set for release in cinemas in the UK in August, Lee’s daughter Shannon has criticised the film for portraying her father as a “caricature”.
“[Bruce Lee] comes across as an arrogant asshole 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,” Shannon told The Wrap. The portrayal was all the more difficult to watch given that, according to Shannon, her father was known to avoid fighting anyone without proper martial arts training.
“It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theatre and listen to people laugh at my father,” she said.
Shannon added that she understands why Tarantino might direct actor Mike Moh, who plays Lee in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood like a “caricature”. “I understand that the two [lead] characters are antiheroes, and this is sort of like a rage fantasy of what would happen… And they’re portraying a period that clearly had a lot of racism and exclusion,” Shannon said. “I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super-badass 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 is referring to the fact that her father was the victim of systemic racism in Hollywood, where studio executives in the US believed that audiences wouldn’t be interested in seeing movies starring people of colour. Thankfully, such a notion no longer holds any sway in the world of Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, but when Lee was at the height of his success he was told that “business-wise, it’s a risk” for Lee to star in films.
In 1971, Lee told Hong Kong newspaper The Sunday Post Herald that “people are sitting around in Hollywood trying to decide if the American television audience is ready for an oriental hero. We could get some really peculiar reactions from the deep south.”
Which is why watching the portrayal of her father in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood was so difficult for Shannon. “Here, he’s the one with all the puffery and he’s the one challenging Brad Pitt,” she said. “Which is not how he was.”
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is in cinemas in the US now and in the UK on 15 August.
Images: Getty, Sony