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

Mike Moh as Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Warning: SPOILERS for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are ahead!

Although Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, has earned a lot of positive reception in the two+ weeks it’s been in theaters, as is frequently the case with Tarantino’s movies, it hasn’t escaped controversy. For instance, there’s been debate about Bruce Lee’s depiction in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, with Lee’s daughter saying that her father came off as an “arrogant asshole” in the movie, and Lee’s protégé Dan Inosanto taking issue with derogatory comments Mike Moh’s Lee made about Muhammad Ali.

Quentin Tarantino has now responded to these criticisms, saying that because Bruce Lee was somewhat arrogant in real life, it would make sense for Mike Moh’s interpretation of the actor and martial arts legend to deliver those lines. In Tarantino’s words:

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 Muhammad 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.

There’s no question that Quentin Tarantino is a Bruce Lee fan, as previously evidenced by how The Bride’s yellow tracksuit in Kill Bill Vol. 1 looks like the one Lee wore in Game of Death. And as he said at the Moscow press conference for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (via Indiewire), he stands by the direction he went with Lee’s dialogue because he supposedly read and heard about similar comments the man had made.

However, that’s just one aspect of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s usage of Bruce Lee that fans have deemed problematic. Fans have also taken issue with when he and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth get into a fight where the goal is to knock the opponent to the ground. Lee wins the first round with a straight kick to Booth’s chest, Booth wins the second round by throwing Lee into the side of a car, and the third round is interrupted, thus ending the match with a tie.

Speaking about whether it was distasteful to have Cliff Booth’s fighting skills so evenly matched against Bruce Lee’s, Quentin 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.

Quentin Tarantino added that if Bruce Lee and Cliff Booth were fighting in a martial arts tournament at Madison Square Garden, then the former would have wiped the floor with the latter. However, if they were engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the jungles of the Philippines, then Booth would come out on top.

It’s unlikely the discussion surrounding Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s use of Bruce Lee will die down anytime soon, but Quentin Tarantino is defending what he delivered to the masses. It should be noted, though, that the fight between Lee and Cliff Booth was originally supposed to be longer, with Booth winning the third round. However, Brad Pitt, stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo and others had issues with the fight ending this way, so it was changed for the shoot.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is still playing in theaters, and be sure to read CinemaBlend’s review of the movie if you haven’t already. Look through our 2019 release schedule to see what else is hitting the big screen for the rest of the year.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore, Adam is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend. He started working for the site back in late 2014 writing exclusively comic book movie and TV-related articles, and along with branching out into other genres, he also made the jump to editing. Along with his writing and editing duties, as well as interviewing creative talent from time to time, he also oversees the assignment of movie-related features. He graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Journalism, and he’s been sourced numerous times on Wikipedia. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.