Shannon Lee remains frustrated with Quentin Tarantino over a year after the release of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” due to her belief that the portrayal of her father, Bruce Lee, in the film is contributing to lasting negative impressions of him. In a recent interview with the South China Morning Post to promote her book “Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee,” Shannon Lee said Tarantino never reached out to her amid the backlash over the film and reiterated that she remains disappointed in his “irresponsible” portrayal of her father.
“It’s unfortunate because it has started this narrative in some places where some people are saying, ‘Oh, Bruce Lee was an asshole,’” Lee said. “Look, everybody can be an asshole sometimes. I can be arrogant and angry in my life — is that something I would say I am like generally? No, my father was not generally like that. He was extremely passionate and driven.”
Lee continued, “He could have a temper sometimes, but he did not go around challenging people to fights. Certainly not after he was a teenager. Anyway, he didn’t behave or boast in that way…My father worked extremely hard and directly toward the idea of authentic representation in Hollywood for an Asian man, so I don’t think he would’ve gone around beating up stunt people and that kind of stuff as a way of furthering his cause.”
Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” features a set piece in which Brad Pitt’s stuntman character Cliff Booth challenges Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh in the film) to a fight on the set of “The Green Hornet.” The fight includes one moment where Cliff throws Bruce Lee into a car. Shannon Lee originally condemned Tarantino for portraying her father as an “arrogant asshole who was full of hot air,” but Tarantino defended the portrayal because it was a fictional account and because “Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy” based on the research he did. The critical portrayal of Bruce Lee is widely believed to be the reason China refused to release “Hollywood” in theaters.
Reflecting on the backlash this month to the South China Morning Post, Shannon Lee said, “I tried to approach it from a cool, collected, and more calm, direct point of view, and I was very disappointed to see Quentin Tarantino’s response, which was to continue to say, ‘Oh, Bruce Lee was arrogant, he was an asshole,’ and to incorrectly cite my mother’s book as a defense of him. I really thought it was irresponsible of him to do what he did and have that portrayal.”
“There were so many other creative ways he could have made the Cliff Booth character look cool in that film,” Lee continued. “So many other ways he could’ve treated the Bruce Lee character that would’ve got the same plot point across without having to essentially treat Bruce Lee the way white Hollywood treated my father when he was alive.”
Watch Shannon Lee’s full interview with the Morning Post in the video below.