Since the opening night of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Shannon Lee has been outspoken about her reaction to the depiction of her late father, Bruce Lee. Things seemed to have simmered down between director Quentin Tarantino and Lee’s daughter, but as Tarantino blazes through his promotion of the new release of his novelization for 2019’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the filmmaker stopped by Joe Rogan’s Spotify podcast on June 29 and was asked about the criticism over the film’s depiction of Bruce Lee. Specifically, a fight scene in which Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff, easily knocks down the martial arts icon, portrayed by Mike Moh. Tarantino told Rogan: “I can understand his daughter having a problem with it – it’s her f*cking father, I get that,” before quickly dismissing others’ criticism.
This weekend The Hollywood Reporter gave Shannon Lee center stage to address the resumed criticism of her father’s legacy as presented in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, directly responding to Quentin Tarantino’s most recent comments about the Bruce Lee critics}.
“Why does Quentin Tarantino speak like he knew Bruce Lee and hated him? It seems weird given he never met Bruce Lee, right? Not to mention that Mr. Tarantino happily dressed the Bride in a knock-off of my father’s yellow jumpsuit and the Crazy 88s in Kato-style masks and outfits for Kill Bill, which many saw as a love letter to Bruce Lee. But love letters usually address the recipient by name, and from what I could observe at the time, Mr. Tarantino tried, interestingly, to avoid saying the name Bruce Lee as much as possible back then.”
She continued by stating, “If only he’d take the name Bruce Lee off his lips now.” Quentin Tarantino’s official quote was, “I can understand his daughter having a problem with it. It’s her f—ing father. Everybody else: go suck a d—.”
Tarantino’s response did not really address the broader criticism from Shannon Lee. In her heartfelt and timely column, she has more to say to Tarantino, but also Hollywood’s White men in power, in general.
“I’m tired of white men in Hollywood barely footnoting the impact he had on the action film genre and fight choreography, or the proliferation of and interest in martial arts he sparked globally, or the number of people and communities he continues to inspire and touch with his performances, philosophies, teachings and practices while casually downplaying how his accomplishments have lifted spirits and become a source of pride for Asian Americans, communities of color and people around the world, and how he accomplished all of this by the age of 32.”
And she had her points made for Tarantino, as well.
“As you already know, the portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Mr. Tarantino, in my opinion, was inaccurate and unnecessary to say the least. (Please let’s not blame actor Mike Moh. He did what he could with what he was given.) And while I am grateful that Mr. Tarantino has so generously acknowledged to Joe Rogan that I may have my feelings about his portrayal of my father, I am also grateful for the opportunity to express this: I’m really fucking tired of white men in Hollywood trying to tell me who Bruce Lee was.”
“Look, I understand what Mr. Tarantino was trying to do. I really do. Cliff Booth is such a badass and a killer that he can beat the crap out of Bruce Lee. Character development. I get it. I just think he could have done it so much better. But instead, the scene he created was just an uninteresting tear-down of Bruce Lee when it didn’t need to be. It was white Hollywood treating Bruce Lee as, well, white Hollywood treated him – as a dispensable stereotype. But that was Mr. Tarantino’s creative device that he chose, so he initially claimed, though now he seems to be arguing that this is actually an accurate portrayal of Bruce Lee and is what would have happened if indeed Cliff Booth (a fictitious person) and the real Bruce Lee (if he were a mediocre, arrogant martial artist) had squared off. Whaaa?”
Shannon Lee goes onto address the issue further in the original essay, ending on this note: “Under the sky, under the heavens, we are one family, Mr. Tarantino, and I think it’s time for both of us to walk on.”
Shannon Lee is an American actress, martial artist and businessperson. She is the only living child of world renowned martial artist Bruce Lee and retired martial arts teacher Linda Lee Cadwell. To learn more of Bruce Lee and his legacy, you can watch the 2020 documentary Be Water which focuses on Bruce Lee’s rejection by Hollywood, and his return to Hong Kong to complete four films. Charting his struggles in two worlds, Be Water explores questions of identity and representation through rare archive, intimate interviews, and his writings. This essay can be read in its entirety at The Hollywood Reporter.