Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood achieved critical acclaim but there’s one scene that many viewers took issue with: Bruce Lee’s backstage fight with Cliff Booth. In the movie, Brad Pitt’s character is challenged by the actor, director, and martial arts legend (played by Mike Moh) after Lee objects to Cliff scoffing at the idea that he could beat Muhammad Ali. During their fight, Cliff throws Lee into a car, humiliating him in defeat. Now, two years after the film’s release, Tarantino addressed the negative reactions to the scene on The Joe Rogan Experience.
“I’m a little hesitant to talk about this because I don’t want this to be the only thing that people pull from this show,” says Tarantino, before making a statement practically guaranteed to be the only thing that people pull from his nearly three-hour conversation with Rogan. Tarantino promises that the scene is delved into more in the novelization of Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. But he also adds, “Where I’m coming from is I can understand his daughter having a problem with it. It’s her fucking father. Everyone else: go suck a dick.”
Tarantino is referencing Shannon Lee’s comments about the scene. In 2019, she told The Wrap, “I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super bad-ass who could beat up Bruce Lee. But they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.” She also shared with the The A.V. Club in 2020 that, “when people want to characterize [Lee] as an asshole or characterize him as, ‘Well, he wasn’t really all that,’ that’s their opinion. They’re coming at it from that angle for some unknown purpose, but I’m aware that is theirs and has nothing to do with me. I feel like I’m doing my work to put out a portrait of the person I know.”
During the podcast episode, Tarantino explains the decision-making process behind the scene. He tells Rogan that it served to highlight how Cliff used his wits to trick Lee. He also insists that his depiction of Lee was—in his opinion—true to life. “The stuntmen hated Bruce on The Green Hornet. It’s in Matthew Polly’s book” he says before adding, “Bruce had nothing but disrespect for stuntmen.”
But in 2019, Lee’s biographer Polly told Esquire the opposite. Polly said that, in reality, Bruce Lee “was very famous for being very considerate of the people below him on film sets, particularly the stuntmen” and “never started fights.”