While millions of people laughed at Quentin Tarantino's version of Bruce Lee over the weekend in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Lee's daughter, Shannon Lee, didn't find it very funny. In fact, she told The Wrap that it was "disheartening" to see the famed director depict her late father as "an arrogant a—hole who was full of hot air."
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
In the film, which premiered last Thursday, Brad Pitt's stuntman character Cliff Booth challenges a very cocky Bruce Lee, played by Mike Moh, to an informal, best two-out-of-three fight on the set of The Green Hornet TV show of the '60s when Lee starts to annoy him with his boastful antics. Lee easily knocks Booth on his rear end in the first round, with Booth returning the favor in the second. The fight is interrupted before the final round, but Shannon Lee said it was enough to make her uncomfortable with how her dad was portrayed — because as an Asian-American in the 1960s, he had to work much harder than white actors.
"I can understand all the reasoning behind what is portrayed in the movie," she said. "I understand that the two characters [Pitt's Booth and Leonardo DiCaprio's Rick Dalton] are antiheroes and this is sort of like a rage fantasy of what would happen… and they’re portraying a period of time that clearly had a lot of racism and exclusion."
"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 added.
Shannon Lee, 50, also said that although Tarantino might be trying to make a point about how Lee was stereotyped, "it doesn't come across that way."
"He comes across as an arrogant a—hole who was full of hot air," she said. "And not someone who had to fight triple as hard as any of those people did to accomplish what was naturally given to so many others."
"It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father," Shannon said, adding that in real life Bruce was often challenged, and tried to avoid fights. "Here, he's the one with all the puffery and he's the one challenging Brad Pitt. Which is not how he was."
Shannon said that while she understood that many characters in the film are caricatures, she noted that the movie didn't make fun of Steve McQueen, who is played by Damian Lewis. She said that she didn't have an issue with Moh, the diehard Bruce Lee fan who plays him in the film. She said he did a good job with her father's mannerisms and his voice. "But I think he was directed to be a caricature."
Shannon continues Bruce Lee's legacy through BruceLee.com, the Bruce Lee Podcast and the Bruce Lee Foundation, which hosts summer camps that teach kids about his martial arts and philosophy.
"What I'm interested in is raising the consciousness of who Bruce Lee was as a human being and how he lived his life," she added. "All of that was flushed down the toilet in this portrayal, and made my father into this arrogant punching bag."