Quentin Tarantino has responded to one of the major criticisms of his latest movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Specifically, his characterization of the late actor and martial arts legend Bruce Lee. Recently, Lee's daughter, Shannon Lee criticized the portrayal of her late father in the movie, which blends fiction with real people and events in late 1960s Hollywood.
During the events of the movie, Brad Pitt's character Cliff Booth gets into a physical ercation with Bruce Lee, played by actor Mike Moh. This comes about after Booth takes issue with Lee claiming he could take on Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, in a fight. Quentin Tarantino while speaking at a recent press event in Moscow, Russia, had this to say.
"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 Mohammad Ali,' well yeah he did. Alright? Not only did he say that but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read. She absolutely said that."
Part of the problem Shannon Lee and others have had is Bruce Lee comes off as arrogant in his main scene in the movie. The other issue is the fact that Cliff Booth is able to get the best off Lee at one point. The fight they set up was meant to be a best two out of three, yet they only ever get through two. In the second round, Booth smashes Lee into a car door. Quentin Tarantino also weighed in on the specific issue of Booth being able to match up against Lee.
"Could Cliff beat up Bruce Lee? Brad would not be able to beat up Bruce Lee, but Cliff maybe could. If you ask me the question, 'Who would win in a fight: Bruce Lee or Dracula?' It's the same question. It's a fictional character. If I say Cliff can beat Bruce Lee up, he's a fictional character so he could beat Bruce Lee up. The reality of the situation is this: Cliff is a Green Beret. He has killed many men in WWII in hand to hand combat.
What Bruce Lee is talking about in the whole thing is that he admires warriors. He admires combat, and boxing is a closer approximation of combat as a sport. Cliff is not part of the sport that is like combat, he is a warrior. He is a combat person... If Cliff were fighting Bruce Lee in a martial arts tournament in Madison Square Garden, Bruce would kill him. But if Cliff and Bruce were fighting in the jungles of the Philippines in a hand-to-hand combat fight Cliff would kill him."
This is where things get dicey. On the one hand, Cliff Booth is indeed a fictional character. But Bruce Lee wasn't. Mixing reality with fiction gets tricky in a situation such as this. Nothing is black and white. It all exists in the grey area.
Whatever the case, Quentin Tarantino's latest is proving to be a big hit. Over the weekend, it became just the second original movie of 2019 to cross the $100 million mark at the domestic box office, following Jordan Peele's Us.. Feel free to check out the interview clip from the Radar Magazine YouTube channel for yourself.
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood unsurprisingly sparked controversy on multiple subjects. That includes how the auteur chose to build up Cliff Booth’s badassery as played by Brad Pitt by having him beat up a cocky Bruce Lee Mike Moh. The scene in question featured Lee boasting and challenging Booth to a throwdown, and as you’re probably aware by now, Booth ends up hurling Lee straight into the car of an outraged producer’s wife Zoe Bell. It was mined for all the typical humor that one expects from a Pitt scene in a Tarantino movie, but Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon, wasn’t amused.
In fact, Shannon was outraged after she attended the movie, only to “listen to people laugh at my father.” She was also angry at how Bruce “comes across as an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air.” Moh addressed the controversy by stating that the scene was written to show that while Bruce was cocky, he was also human, and he believes that Bruce would have eventually won the fight that ended up being “a tie.” That could have been the end of the conversation, but Tarantino had more to offer. He ended up defending the “arrogant” factor last week in Moscow during a press conference via Indiewire:
“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 Mohammad Ali,’ well yeah he did. Alright? Not only did he say that but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read. She absolutely said that.”
Tarantino continued, stressing that while Pitt couldn’t have defeated Bruce Lee, Booth was capable because he’s a fictional character, and Tarantino wanted to write him that way. He further stressed that Booth was a Green Beret and had killed men via hand-to-hand combat, and Lee held respect for warriors and combat, but he simply didn’t know that Booth held these abilities. You can watch that segment of the press conference on YouTube, and while it won’t extinguish the controversy, Tarantino probably didn’t aim for that end goal while addressing the scene either. If he’s serious about moving into retirement, Tarantino sure will miss making people angry someday.
Ever since “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” touched down at the Cannes Film Festival, much has been made over Margot Robbie’s lack of dialogue as Sharon Tate. Robbie’s low word count prompted TIME magazine this week to count every word ever spoken by Tarantino’s female characters, much to the annoyance of Tarantino fans and surely the moviegoers sitting next to that reporter. As IndieWire’s Kate Erbland has explained, Robbie’s lack of dialogue does not diminish Tate’s overwhelming presence in “Hollywood.” One of Robbie’s most spirited moments occurs when Tate attends a party at the Playboy Mansion, her infectious dancing doing more to showcase her lively optimism and spirit than any dialogue could.
The New York Times recently spoke with Toni Basil, the 1960s dancing “it” girl Tarantino hired to choreograph the massive Playboy Mansion party. Basil knew Sharon Tate personally and has worked closely with Bette Midler and David Bowie throughout her career. The dancer choreographed two sequences in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” the first being Leonardo DiCaprio’s “sexy smooth mischievous” twist when his character, Rick Dalton, appears on “Hullabaloo” and the second being the Playboy party.
Basil told The Times she was confident Robbie would pick up the dance moves with ease after seeing the actress’ physically-demanding role as Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya,” for which Robbie earned her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Basil and Robbie hung out for three days straight practicing go-go dancing. The choreographer said that was all the time Robbie needed to master the dance moves.
“Margot could freestyle in any situation in any scene,” Basil said. “She knew the 60s left and right. Since Quentin knew all the step names, he'd guide her.”
The Playboy Mansion party required Basil to oversee a cast of 240 extras, all of whom were given Basil’s dance training video “Popular Dance Crazes of the '60s” to study. The extras “who could twist, who could jerk, and who could pony” were chosen to be featured more prominently in the scene.
“I auditioned some heavy hip-hop people — they couldn't handle it,” Basil said. “The '60s was leather soles and a wooden floor. That's why the twist, the simplest dance, was such a sensation. Everyone could do it. They just swivel their feet and the upper body fell naturally in the opposite direction.”
Anyone paying attention to Robbie’s dancing will notice how individualistic it is during the scene. Sharon Tate is seen vibrantly dancing in her own image and not associated with any men, which only stands out more when Steve McQueen Damian Lewis tells a partygoer about Tate’s romantic history. Basil said that dancing “was partnering, it was jitterbug” before the 1960s, but during the counterculture era it became “freedom — what the '60s were about.” With dancers no longer holding hands, the “arms started to dance.” Such was the foundation of creating Robbie’s Playboy Mansion dance moves.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is now playing in theaters.
Warning: Spoilers for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood below.
The exact moment I knew Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was going to be a good movie because it is was 23 seconds into the first trailer, when an eyepatch-wearing Leonardo DiCaprio yells “did anybody order fried sauerkraut?!” while torching “Nazi bastards” with a flamethrower. Speaking of that flamethrower: unlike The 14 Fists of McCluskey star Rick Dalton, who keeps the working prop in his toolshed, Leonardo DiCaprio was not a fan.
That’s according to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood co-stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo, who told the Huffington Post that the Oscar winner “was not very gung-ho with all the flamethrower stuff. Literally, he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. And I completely understood it. Normally you use a stunt person in that spot to be able to manage firing a flamethrower at somebody. When I did Tropic Thunder, Nick Nolte fired a flamethrower at me.” Imagine going to your high school reunion and the kid you sat behind during 11th grade math asks what you do for a living. She probably expects “doctor” or “lawyer,” but nope, “I’m a stunt coordinator, and this one time Nick Nolte fired a flamethrower at me.”
Anyway, unlike what happened on Tropic Thunder, DiCaprio “is actually lighting them up and holding a flame to them for about seven to eight seconds as the flamethrower is traversing back and forth around eight guys that he’s never met,” Alonzo said. “That is psychologically difficult to do, so kudos to him on being able to stay in character and do that scene.” When the scene was over, DiCaprio made everyone give the stunt team a round of applause. Presumably he was more comfortable using the flamethrower the second time…
I can understand Leo’s hesitation about setting people on fire, but there was no need to feel bad: Nazis aren’t people; they’re monsters.
The “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Bruce Lee fight scene may be getting all of the attention in the wake of the film’s release, but another scene in Tarantino’s latest almost caused a similar level of controversy. One of Tarantino’s biggest set-pieces in “Hollywood” takes place at the Spahn ranch, a former production location for many Westerns that served as the home for the Manson Family cult in 1969. Brad Pitt’s stuntman Cliff Booth visits the ranch after driving the hitchhiker Pussycat Margaret Qualley home. Cliff intends to say hello to ranch owner George Spahn Bruce Dern, an old friend from the movie business, but Pussycat and the Manson Family complicate what should be a simple reintroduction.
In an interview with HuffPo, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” production designer Barbara Ling reveals that rebuilding the Manson Family caused some panic among Los Angeles area locals. “They thought it was going to be a movie about the Manson Family,” Ling said. “There was pushback to the [Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks], and the park came back and said, 'Stop. This is just one set of a Tarantino movie.'”
Veteran supervising location manager Rick Schuler previously told Los Angeles Magazine that the “Hollywood” production team rebuilt the Manson Family compound as close to the original location of the ranch as possible. Per Ling, the close proximity of the fake Manson compound to the real Manson compound led many locals with memories of 1969 to have worries about the production.
“We had originally hoped to film at the site of the real Spahn Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, but the property had been completely bulldozed over as if to eradicate it from history,” Schuler said. “Just down the road, however, was the site of the old Corriganville Movie Ranch, now a public park. Like the Spahn Ranch, it had once featured a Western-themed set. The lay of the land afforded our incredible production designer Barbara Ling a chance to position the house of George Spahn played by Bruce Dern on a hill at the end of a road near the Santa Susana boulders, helping set up tension for a scene.”
The locals’ pushback to recreating the Manson Family ranch is certainly warranted. Many moviegoers had similar worries when it was revealed Tarantino would be taking on the Manson murders in his new movie. The director told IndieWire before production that his film would not be about the Manson Family but about 1969 as a whole, which turned out to be the case. The Spahn ranch is only featured in the one scene in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” The film is now playing nationwide.
[Editor's note: The following post contains spoilers for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”]
Of all the reimagined bits of history that round out Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” there’s one sequence that continues divide moviegoers. The scene, a wild on-set hand-to-hand battle between Brad Pitt’s stuntman Cliff Booth and Mike Moh as the legendary Bruce Lee, involves plenty of elements worth unpacking, including the use of a historical figure. But some audiences are struggling to understand where it fits in the film’s narrative.
The Bruce Lee/Cliff Booth fight has become one of the film's biggest points of controversy since “Hollywood” hit theaters late last month. Both Lee's daughter Shannon Lee and protégé Dan Inosanto have spoken out against Tarantino for his portrayal of the martial arts and acting legend in the scene.
Actor Mike Moh, who plays Lee in the film, recently admitted that he was conflicted at first about taking on the part as written, owing to his long-standing affection for Lee as a Hollywood trailblazer. Just this week, “Hollywood” stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo explained that Pitt himself helped reshape the sequence, originally written as much longer — and with Lee losing — to better honor Lee's legacy.
Both Moh and Alonzo stressed the same point: the scene isn’t meant to diminish Lee’s skills, but to show just how talented Cliff himself is meaning, tough enough to go up against a titan like Lee. That’s why the scene’s placement in the film, both in terms of where it falls in the sprawling timeline that “Hollywood” follows and through whose perspective it is filtered, is so key.
Throughout the film, Cliff and Rick Leonardo DiCaprio mention an incident that happened on the set of “The Green Hornet,” something so bad that a stunt coordinator Kurt Russell will likely never hire Cliff for another job even if Rick is acting in the production, even if he asks quite nicely. When Rick goes to work on the television show “Lancer,” Cliff heads back to Rick’s house to fix his television antenna, during which he recalls the “Green Hornet” fight.
Even that piece of the timeline has confused fans, some of whom believe that Cliff is fantasizing about either a beating up Bruce Lee on the set of “Lancer” a show he was not on, a confusion based on the fact that Rick is filming on that series and is not able to get Cliff a job on it or b wholesale imagining a battle with the superstar that would prove Cliff’s abilities. Neither of those are true.
In illustrating another point about the limits of Wikipedia, journalist Scott Meslow pointed out a salient argument involving “Hollywood,” one that continues to take shape on the film’s Wikipedia page, which can be edited by anyone. As Meslow notes, one edit says that Cliff “remembers” fighting Lee, while another changes it to “daydreams about.”
And there are real implications for this! Let’s stick with OUATIH. Here’s an ongoing argument, fought invisibly behind the scenes of the Wiki page, about what “actually happened” in a scene the movie deliberately leaves ambiguous pic.twitter.com/X3CgFfi44i
— Scott Meslow @scottmeslow August 6, 2019
As of this writing, the description of the scene now reads Cliff “reminisces on a sparring match he had on the set of ‘The Green Hornet’ with Bruce Lee.” Even for fans invested enough in the film to update a sizable Wikipedia page, confusion reigns. But it doesn’t need to.
The scene, remembered by Cliff, is a flashback to what previously happened on the set of “The Green Hornet.” Again, it’s an incident that has been previously mentioned in the narrative, and one that helps explain why Cliff is having trouble getting gigs. It’s not on the set of “Lancer,” it’s not wholly made up, and it also exists outside the general timeline that guides the film.
And yet while the basic truth of the incident is probably real well, “real” in a fictionalized movie that rewrites Hollywood history, it’s important to remember this is still a story being filtered through Cliff’s own memories and biases. It’s a scene meant to reaffirm how skilled Cliff is, not to diminish what Lee was, with an aging-out Cliff recalling an incident that led directly to his downtrodden state.
Told that way, of course he’s the heavy-hitting tough guy who literally throws Bruce Lee into a car, providing sufficient justification for Cliff to be tossed off set but still feel like a badass along the way. After all, he’s remembering this while fixing a television antenna on top of his boss’ house, a sunny day activity for a wistful man, and another reminder of just how fickle Hollywood can be. Timelines, however, are easier to set in stone.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is now in theaters.