Quentin Tarantino defended his controversial portrayal of Bruce Lee in his new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in an interview this week.

The depiction of the late legendary Hong Kong-American actor, director and martial arts master has been called “arrogant” and has been criticized by many people, including Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee, who called it a “mockery.” Lee’s biographer also criticized the portrayal of the martial artist. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a crime comedy-drama that takes place primarily in 1969, during Hollywood’s golden age, and that blends fictional figures with real celebrities from the time period.

“He comes across as an arrogant (expletive) who was full of hot air,” Shannon Lee told The Wrap about the on-screen depiction 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.”

In the film, Lee is played by Mike Moh and appears in one brief scene during which he boasts about his martial arts skills on the set of his 1966-67 television series The Green HornetBrad Pitts fictional character, a stunt double named Cliff Booth, laughs at Lee’s monologue and says he doubts the martial arts master could ever defeat Cassius Clay — also known as Muhammad Ali — in a fight.

Lee challenges Booth to a fight and Booth wins after violently slamming Lee into the side of a car.



Tarantino told reporters in Moscow that Lee did in fact boast about defeating Clay in a fight, and cited  the late Asian star’s wife Linda Lee’s comments in a biography she wrote entitled The Man Only I Knew. 

“She absolutely said that,” Tarantino said of Linda Lee.

“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 went on to note Pitt’s character’s backstory as a war veteran in order to justify his physical strength and fighting ability.

“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 martial 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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