Quentin Tarantino Defends Bruce Lee Scene In Once Upon A Time In Hollywood


When you make a movie that’s almost three full hours long, there’s bound to be some scenes that don’t sit right with people. However, it’s never good when one of those people is the daughter of someone being portrayed onscreen.

Recently, Bruce Lee’s daughter spoke out against a scene in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood that she felt painted her late father in a negative light. The sequence in question revolves around Lee, played by Mike Moh, boastfully claiming that he could best Muhammad Ali in a fight. Brad Pitt’s stuntman character Cliff Booth takes exception with this brag, which leads to a verbal and ultimately physical altercation between the two men.

Lee’s daughter felt that her dad was unfairly made out to be hubristic. Now, director/writer Quentin Tarantino has finally chimed in about the controversial segment of his latest critically-acclaimed film. Rather than acknowledging the next of kin’s hurt feelings though, he doubled down on his creative decision by saying:

“Bruce 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 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.”

Another problem that Bruce Lee fans had with the feature is that Pitt’s fictional character appeared to be somewhat evenly matched during his tussle with the martial arts savant. The fight they set up was meant to be a best two-out-of-three, but only two rounds are completed before the bout is broken up. At one point, Booth smashes Lee into a car door. Given the real-life movie star’s impressive physical prowess, it seems unlikely that anyone but a trained professional could ever come close to trumping him in a battle of brawn.

Pertaining to this, Tarantino said:

“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. 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… If Cliff were fighting Bruce Lee in a martial arts tournament in Madison Square Garden, Bruce would kill him. But if Cliff and Bruce were fighting in the jungles of the Philippines in a hand-to-hand combat fight Cliff would kill him.”

This isn’t the first time that Tarantino has blurred the lines of reality by mixing real historical figures with fictional ones. Even though he might not be offended by the way he chose to write Lee, it’s easy to see why Bruce’s family might. For a man who prided himself on being one of the best martial artists to ever live, appearing to be bested by another in a fight that never even happened might rub those close to him the wrong way.

Regardless, it doesn’t look like Tarantino’s planning on apologizing to anyone any time soon. And for those who want to judge the scene for themselves, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is currently playing in theaters nationwide.