The director explains a controversial scene featuring a dramatization of the iconic action star from his 2019 Best Picture-nominated movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

By Joey Nolfi
June 30, 2021 at 09:52 AM EDT
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Quentin Tarantino isn't dodging blows when it comes to addressing his characterization of iconic action star Bruce Lee in the 2019 movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

"I can understand his daughter having a problem with it. It's her f—ing father," the Oscar-winning filmmaker said on Tuesday's episode of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, referencing critics who've called his brief depiction of Lee in a scene from the Best Picture-nominated film as a racist caricature. "Everybody else: go suck a d---."

He continued, explaining that the scene — which sees stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) visiting Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of the Green Hornet TV show, and subsequently throwing him into a car during a physical matchup played for laughs — is "obvious" in its declaration "that Cliff tricked him. That's how he was able to do it; he tricked him."

QUENTIN TARANTINO; Bruce Lee
Quentin Tarantino defends his Bruce Lee depiction in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.'
| Credit: Rick Rowell via Getty Images; Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Tarantino stressed that the moment is fleshed out more in his new novelization of the film, and that Pitt's character deliberately manipulates Lee in a way that leads to the moment where the latter careens into a stationary car. He also cited Booth's past experience in the military as giving him a killer instinct that allowed him to calculatedly overthrow Lee's martial arts-inspired instincts.

The Pulp Fiction helmer further described Lee's history in entertainment, expressing affection for him and what he calls a "disrespect for [American] stuntmen" working on his projects: "He was always hitting them with his feet, it's called tagging, when you hit a stunt man for real," Tarantino said, likening Lee's approach to the craft to fellow actor Robert Conrad (The Wild Wild West).

However, Lee biographer Matthew Polly previously told Esquire that "Bruce was very famous for being very considerate of the people below him on film sets, particularly the stuntmen," and, with regard to Tarantino's depiction, "that's just not who Bruce Lee was as a person."

After Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's release, Lee's daughter, Shannon Lee, told The Wrap that she was disappointed in the depiction amid other criticisms from the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,

"I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super badass who could beat up Bruce Lee. But they didn't need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive," she told the publication, remembering the "uncomfortable" feeling of watching the scene in a theater as people laughed at her father.

"He comes across as an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air," she said. "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."

Watch video of Tarantino's appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience above.

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ONCE UPON TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019 Movie)

Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, and Quentin Tarantino earn rave reviews out of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival for 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.'
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  • Movie
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director
  • Quentin Tarantino

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