One of the most memorable, and also most controversial, scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has to be the scene where Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth is depicted as entering into a fight with Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee. It’s a fight that, ultimately, has no real winner and one hell of a punchline, with the conflict ending in a draw, and a firing.
But as fate would have it, we not only almost had a clear cut winner in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’s big fight sequence, but that third round was allegedly going to be a show-stopper. The idea was for a third and final round that really went for it, with Cliff winning over Bruce in the end result.
As mentioned by the film’s stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo, that last round was going to end with Booth as the victor, all thanks to a supposedly cheap shot he would have taken against the martial arts legend. By the sound of that description, it’s probably a good thing that one of the only sustained action beats in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was cut short. Not only does an extended action sequence before the film’s conclusion undermine the sort of film Quentin Tarantino is going for, but according to further comments from Alonzo to The Huffington Post, the possibility of Bruce Lee losing a match to someone like Cliff just didn’t sit well with anyone:
I know that Brad had expressed his concerns, and we all had concerns about Bruce losing. Especially for me, as someone who has looked up to Bruce Lee as an icon, not only in the martial-arts realm, but in the way he approached philosophy and life, to see your idol be beaten is very disheartening. It really pulled at certain emotional strings that can incite a little anger and frustration as to how he’s portrayed. … There’s a certain mythology and mysticism about who Bruce Lee is, which is understandable. Being an Asian American myself, I definitely related to how Bruce was a symbol of how Asians should be portrayed in movies, instead of the old Breakfast at Tiffany’s model that was really prevalent back in the day. … I had a difficult time choreographing a fight where he lost. Everyone involved was like, ‘How is this going to go over?’ Brad was very much against it. He was like, ‘It’s Bruce Lee, man!’
Between debating whether the scene happened or not, as well as how accurate and/or respectful the depiction of Lee really is, it’s a flashpoint of discussion for a film that’s gotten people talking quite a bit. Taking a look at how that scene could have ended though, it’s probably a good thing that Robert Alonzo and Quentin Tarantino could workshop that new ending into the scene.
The way that Cliff Booth and Bruce Lee’s fight ends in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood still gets the point it wants to convey across. Cliff is a formidable fighter who may or may not have won against Bruce, and his skills come in handy when the time comes. With no definitive answer, there’s more room for the moment to entertain rather than annoy the audience, though there’s still a window for the latter scenario, as we’ve seen in recent weeks.
As it stands, the fight scene sounds like it was choreographed and filmed in such a way that this third round never got past the script level. So if you’re thinking that rumored Netflix miniseries cut for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood will include the Tarantino Cut of this moment, you might not want to get your hopes up too high.
But what you can do is go out and enjoy Once Upon A Time In Hollywood in theaters now, for the first or fifth time on the big screen. Also, if you’re lucky enough, you might be able to catch it in limited 35mm and 70mm engagements, so check your local listings extra carefully.