Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to controversy. The singular filmmaker has always been uncompromising, but for some, his style can cross the line into offensiveness. Take this year’s Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, for example. The movie drew a tiny bit of outrage before it was even filmed, which is unquestionably ridiculous, and its depiction of the legendary Bruce Lee drew both criticism and offense, which isn’t so ridiculous. Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, expressed her disappointment more than once.
Portrayed by Mike Moh, it was a fantastical depiction of the artist in what’s a fantasy movie, but still, it was off-putting in some ways and possibly harmful by some people’s standards. Worst of it all, it was hurtful to Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee. She wasn’t pleased seeing her father played almost purely for laughs, arguably stripped of his humanity and turned into a caricature as he throws punches with Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) in a great hand-to-hand fight scene. It’s the only hiccup in Tarantino’s most recent masterpiece, his second to last movie.
Tarantino stood by his depiction of Lee in the movie. The actor, martial artist, and philosopher was famous for his arrogance, according to Tarantino. If Lee was indeed more arrogant than confident, it’s the only facet of him Tarantino intentionally chose to emphasis for audiences. The filmmaker defended that choice during a press conference:
“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 Mohammad Ali,’ well, yeah, he did. All right? Not only did he say that, but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read. She absolutely said that.”
Shannon Lee said he wished Tarantino would either “shut up” about it or acknowledge it’s fantasy. At the end of the day, it is a fantasy, but Tarantino is occasionally a bit thin-skinned towards criticism and didn’t try to meet Lee in the middle or express some empathy.
Getting China Involved
Things took a turn for the worse when Lee reached out to the Chinese government. She issued a complaint, and not long after, Chinese sensors indefinitely postponed the release of Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood a week before its release.
Tarantino’s violence in Django Unchained prevented it from playing in China, but Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is a mostly kind-hearted hangout movie that’s cute and cuddly compared to Tarantino’s past work Plus, it. On top of that, it was a week away from release in China. The sudden delay was fishy, and after the decision, Tarantino rightfully refused to recut his movie for censors. Sony stood by him.
When Variety asked about her communication with the Chinese government, Lee didn’t have much to say about it:
“I had just complained there as I complained here, but obviously through China channels. But really, their decision to do whatever they did with that movie was their decision.”
While Lee was valid and fair in her criticisms of the movie, trying to silence a storyteller, good or bad, isn’t right. Yes, it’s China’s decision at the end of the day whether to release a film, but for Lee to chalk up her potential role in the decision as simply “complaining through China channels,” that’s sugarcoating censorship.
Now Open to a Conversation
Lee went back-and-forth with Quentin Tarantino in the press about the matter. He didn’t express much empathy, despite the fact it’s hard to disagree with someone disturbed by seeing her father mocked far more than, of all people, Roman Polanski in the movie.
As Lee recently said, though, she’d talk to Tarantino in-person about it if he was interested:
“I really do think [the movie] did a disservice to him, I think it did a disservice to Asian actors and I think that it was really a shame. I would imagine he has no love lost for me or wants to speak to me. But I’m always open for a conversation.”
If only a conversation between the two could’ve happened sooner. Tarantino’s team didn’t provide a comment to Lee’s most recent quotes, but the two talking about their differences in-person instead of the press sounds more productive and beneficial.
It’s an important dialogue worth having, and ultimately, it’s a shame a movie as joyful and wondrous as Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood left people feeling hurt.