Shannon Lee has spoken.
The daughter of martial arts legend and iconic Asian American pioneer Bruce Lee responded to Quentin Tarantino’s defense of his controversial depiction of her father in his new movie “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.” The director has drawn ire for his interpretation of the late trailblazer, who many felt was reduced to a punchline.
Lee told Variety that Tarantino “could shut up about” the controversy.
“That would be really nice. Or he could apologize or he could say, ‘I don’t really know what Bruce Lee was like. I just wrote it for my movie. But that shouldn’t be taken as how he really was.’”
In one particularly cringeworthy scene, the martial artist, played by Mike Moh, challenges stunt man Cliff Booth, portrayed by Brad Pitt, to a fight. The martial artist ultimately serves as a narrative vehicle to show that Booth is still a worthy stuntman even though his career appears to be fizzling out.
Upon seeing the movie, Lee said that it had illustrated her father as an “arrogant punching bag” and told The Wrap that “it was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father.”
Tarantino doubled down on his controversial take at a press conference in Moscow, during which he said that “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 Muhammad Ali.’ Well, yeah, he did,” he said before misattributing a quote to the legend’s wife. “Not only did he say that, but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read. She absolutely said that.”
Variety notes that the passage Tarantino appears to refer to in Linda Lee’s biography, “Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew,” had in fact been citing a TV critic who wrote that “those who watched [Bruce] Lee would bet on Lee to render Cassius Clay senseless.”
Bruce Lee remains a critical figure for Asian Americans, particularly men, who’ve long been emasculated in Hollywood roles. The actor represented strength, and through his mastery of craft, avoided being relegated to the nerdy, sexless tropes that existed for Asian men at the time. Moh himself had idolized the star growing up. As senior reporter Brittany Wong writes in HuffPost, “Lee was the Asian American hero ― the only one. Here, by the grace of the film gods, was a cocksure, ass-kicking, philosophy-spouting action star who actually looked like them.”