By Mark Lee
In the glittering world of Hollywood, where truth often bends to the whims of creativity, one must ask a rather uncomfortable question: Is Quentin Tarantino a lying sleaze ball? This inquiry gains significance when we revisit the controversial Asian-bashing scene of the iconic Bruce Lee in Tarantino’s 2019 film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” The spark that reignites this debate comes from none other than Shannon Lee, Bruce’s daughter, who delves into the portrayal of her father in her recently written book In My Own Process which features her father’s letter, poetry and photos and provides the personal side of Bruce as a philosopher, poet, teacher and father and husband.
In this jaw-dropping scene, Bruce Lee is painted as a loud-mouthed, arrogant jerk who boasts about his prowess, claiming he could put Muhammad Ali in a wheelchair. The climax sees him being tossed against a car by a stuntman portrayed by Brad Pitt after challenging him to a fight. When Shannon Lee watched the film, she couldn’t help but notice the laughter that echoed through the theater during this disrespectful depiction. It appears that Tarantino was not just weaving a narrative; he was pushing the subliminal racist buttons of those who took pleasure in witnessing the belittlement of the world’s most renowned Asian actor.
Interestingly, the original script envisioned Bruce Lee being even more beaten up by Brad Pitt’s character. However, Brad Pitt, who had partied with Bruce Lee’s son Brandon in real life, resisted this portrayal, showing signs of his friendship with Brandon. Crew members also objected, expressing concerns about the negative light in which Bruce Lee was being painted. Instead of acknowledging the concerns as artistic disagreements, Tarantino doubled down, vehemently insisting on the accuracy of his portrayal.
Enter Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a friend of Bruce’s and a co-star in one of his films, who criticized Tarantino’s depiction as “sloppy and somewhat racist.” This condemnation wasn’t limited to the screen; it extended to Tarantino’s personal conduct. When faced with allegations from Linda Lee, Bruce’s widow, Tarantino didn’t hesitate to call her a liar on the Joe Rogan podcast. It’s disheartening to witness Tarantino, a Hollywood heavyweight, taking jabs at an elderly woman who merely seeks to protect her husband’s legacy.
Linda Lee’s biography of Bruce became a battleground for truth when Tarantino claimed that Bruce had boasted about being able to beat up Muhammad Ali and that Linda said this in her book. In a word search I did through a digital, word-searchable copy of Linda Lee’s book, the term “Muhammad Ali” appeared several times, but the alleged claim by Bruce himself did not. There is a part of the book where Linda says “It has often been argued that if Bruce were locked in a room with Muhammad Ali and both were allowed to fight in their usual styles, then Bruce was bound to have been the winner.” This is vastly different from Tarantino’s claim that Bruce himself said he could beat up Ali.
Perhaps most shockingly, Tarantino told Joe Rogan that those critical of his portrayal of Bruce Lee could “suck a d***,” displaying a level of arrogance unbecoming of a filmmaker of his stature. It raises the question: Is this the behavior we should tolerate from a director who claims to be an artist, or is it a blatant display of insensitivity and arrogance?
In the end, Tarantino’s refusal to acknowledge the flaws in his depiction of Bruce Lee, coupled with his personal attacks on those who challenge him, leaves us wondering if there is more to the man behind the camera than meets the eye. The guy’s not helping himself being an a…hole.