When it comes to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” one scene that is proving to be most controversial is the fight between Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Bruce Lee’s daughter and protégé have already spoken out against the film, condemning Quentin Tarantino for his portrayal of the martial arts and acting legend. In an interview with HuffPo, “Hollywood” stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo reveals Tarantino originally wrote a much longer version of the Bruce Lee fight scene.
In the film, Bruce Lee challenges Cliff to a three-round fight on the set of “The Green Hornet” after Cliff insults him by laughing when he says his fists have been registered as lethal weapons. Lee quickly wins the first round by knocking Cliff to the ground, then Cliff wins round two by launching Lee into the side of a car. Just before the two men can engage in the final round, a “Green Hornet” stunt coordinator played by Zoë Bell arrives on set to yell at the two men.
Per HuffPo, Tarantino wrote the Bruce-Cliff fight scene through round three and it ended with Bruce definitely losing to Cliff. Alonzo said the fight originally ended with Cliff making a “cheap-shot move” that puts Bruce on his butt. The scene as written rubbed both Alonzo and Pitt the wrong way, as the fight’s intention was to only show “the level at which Cliff was [operating]” and not to flat out depict Bruce as weaker.
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“I know that Brad had expressed his concerns, and we all had concerns about Bruce losing,” Alonzo said. “Especially for me, as someone who has looked up to Bruce Lee as an icon, not only in the martial-arts realm, but in the way he approached philosophy and life, to see your idol be beaten is very disheartening. It really pulled at certain emotional strings that can incite a little anger and frustration as to how he’s portrayed.”
Alonzo admitted he had a “difficult time choreographing a fight where [Bruce Lee] lost.” The stunt coordinator said even Pitt vocalized his objection to the extended fight. “Everyone involved was like, ‘How is this going to go over?’ Brad was very much against it,” Alonzo said. “He was like, ‘It’s Bruce Lee, man!’”
Alonzo and Pitt’s pushback led Tarantino to revise the sequence, which is when the idea came to have stunt coordinators on the “Green Hornet” set interrupt the fight before it could go into a third round. Mike Moh previously told Birth. Movies. Death. that the original fight scene “conflicted” him because Bruce Lee is a personal hero. Moh stressed that Tarantino reveres Bruce Lee and reminded viewers that the scene’s purpose is only to show Cliff’s strength and not to diminish Lee’s skill.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is now playing in theaters nationwide.