Quentin Tarantino pulled out all the stops in his latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Think Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, the Playboy mansion, hippies and all of the nitty-gritty of Hollywood at its drug-crazed peak in the 60s. The film earned $16.8 million in its first 24 hours, making it Tarantino’s biggest opening ever. Critics are calling it his best movie since Pulp Fiction. Despite this, the film is receiving criticism from one notable source: Bruce Lee’s daughter.
Lee, the late Hong Kong-American actor and martial artist, is still revered for his work. According to Shannon Lee, however, her dad’s depiction in the film came nowhere close to his true persona. Instead, he came across as an “arrogant a**hole full of hot air” and that it was “disheartening” to watch, she told The Wrap.
Lee, who is played by Korean American actor Mike Moh, makes his appearance in the film when he challenges Pitt’s character, Booth, to an informal fight. He takes Booth down in the first round but is subsequently slammed into a car in the second.
Shannon points out that Tarantino’s arrogant version of Lee reduces him to a caricature and overshadows the man’s actual attitude during his career. For one, he made it a point to avoid fights. Shannon also asserts that this depiction undermines the fact that, as an Asian American in the 60s, her father had to work much harder than his peers to succeed.
While she acknowledges that this period in Hollywood was characterized by “a lot of racism and exclusion,” this version of him, according to her, did not seem like “someone who had to fight triple as hard as any of those people did to accomplish what was naturally given to so many others.”
“I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super bad-ass who could beat up Bruce Lee,” she said. “But they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.”
During his career, Lee was notably passed over by casting directors, even for roles depicting Asian characters. Directors would choose white actors pretending to be Asian, rather than cast him. His breakthrough only came in the late 60s, when the popularity of Hong Kong martial-arts films got Hollywood talking.
Lee eventually reached the heights of fame and is credited for shifting Asian representation in Hollywood. In 1999, TIME Magazine named him as one of the most influential people of the 20th century, 26 years after his death. They called him “the patron saint of the cult of the body,” referring to Lee’s well-known self-control, discipline and physical strength. In both the East and West, he became a pop-culture icon.
However, his daughter believes that with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, much of this legacy “was flushed down the toilet.” To Shannon, and Lee’s fans, he was simply not shown to be “how he was” when he was hustling to make a name for himself.