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Quentin Tarantino defends 'arrogant' Bruce Lee depiction in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

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Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio star in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which has released its official trailer.
USA TODAY

Quentin Tarantino is standing by his controversial depiction of Bruce Lee in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

The cocky depiction of the late martial arts star has received criticism from Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee (who called it a “mockery”), and Lee’s biographer. But Tarantino defended it when speaking to reporters in Moscow, where the film is just opening.

“Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy,” Tarantino told reporters. “I didn’t make a lot of this up. I heard him say things like that.”

The “Once” portrayal features Brad Pitt’s fictional stuntman Cliff Booth listening to Lee (played by Mike Moh) boast about his fighting prowess during a down moment on set. Eventually Booth goads Lee into saying that he could beat heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay in a fight.

During the fight that follows, Booth throws Lee into a car during an attempted high kick.

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“He comes across as an arrogant (expletive) who was full of hot air,” Shannon Lee told The Wrap about the portrayal of her father. “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.” 

“Bruce Lee was often a cocky, strutting braggart, but Tarantino took those traits and exaggerated them to the point of caricature,” Matthew Polly, author of “Bruce Lee: A Life,” told USA TODAY. Polly took special exception with Lee boasting about beating Clay (later Muhammad Ali).

But, Tarantino said in Moscow, Lee did brag about beating Clay, as told by wife Linda Lee “in the first biography I ever read, Linda Lee’s ‘The Man Only I Knew.’ She absolutely said that.”

As for the thumping at the hands of Booth in the movie, Tarantino says its a work of fiction. 

“Brad (Pitt) would not be able to beat up Bruce Lee, but Cliff maybe could,” said Tarantino. “If I’m saying Cliff could beat Bruce Lee up, he’s a fictional character. Then he could beat Bruce Lee up.”

Tarantino pointed out that Booth is a Green Beret trained to kill.

“He has killed many men in World War II in hand-to-hand combat. He is a killer,” said Tarantino. “If Cliff were fighting Bruce Lee in a marital arts tournament in Madison Square Garden, Bruce Lee would kill him. If Cliff and Bruce Lee were fighting in the jungles of the Philippines in a hand-to-hand combat fight, Cliff would kill him.” 

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  • CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 21: Brad Pitt attends the screening of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Tony Barson/FilmMagic) ORG XMIT: 775340043 ORIG FILE ID: 11507826141 of 59
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