August 13, 2019

Tarantino Hits Back At 'Hollywood's' Bruce Lee Controversy

The Once Upon a Time In Hollywood director has some thoughts about how people are reacting to his new movie. 

Film Twitter has been on the verge of obsessive behavior concerning Once Upon a Time In Hollywood and its revisionist history/nostalgic tour through the last glorious gasps of 1969 Hollywood. When fans aren't talking about Quentin Tarantino's take on the period, or Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio's exceptional performances, or that ending, they're sounding off on Bruce Lee's role in the movie.

Mike Moh's Lee gets into a small brawl with Brad Pitt's stuntman, Cliff Booth, where the latter gives the former as good as he gets. The fight ends in a draw (but that wasn't always the plan in the script) and the scene has sparked considerable controversy regarding how Tarantino uses an historical figure like Lee in an effort to service his main character, Cliff, by showing that the stuntman is the last man with whom to fu** if he can go toe-to-toe with Mr. Enter the Dragon. Tarantino spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about this choice, and how Lee's depiction comes off as "arrogant" -- which Lee was in real-life to a degree, according to those that know him:

"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. Not only did he say that, but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read ... She absolutely said it." 

As for the whole debate around could Stuntman Cliff really beat up Bruce Lee? Yup, QT has an opinion or three:

"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 best part about all this "controversy" is the insight it offers on the level of backstory writer-director Tarantino invested in the creation of Cliff. We may not know any of this if it wasn't for the blowback the Lee-Booth fight has received:

"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."

First, we would so watch a Cliff Booth-as-a-Green-Beret origin story movie. Second, this backstory that Tarantino created, while not something we saw explicitly on-screen, it is important as a tool for the actor and filmmaker to put themselves in Cliff's shoes to help ground the extraordinary event of fighting Bruce Lee in some sense of emotional reality. It makes narrative sense for the hero of your movie to be serviced this way, and writers rarely have to defend their choices or legwork that went into them to such a degree after the fact. It's like having the internet over your shoulder as you make choices and they complain about them in real-time before you have a chance to fine-tune or shape more to whatever your desired intent is. Tarantino's creative choices are being put through that gauntlet post-release, sparking him to retro-actively go back and defend his choices because a very vocal minority is sparking headlines. 

While not all of us may understand or respect a filmmaker's choices, we can at least make it easier on ourselves by accepting them. As appreciated as it is to get this level of insight, and for writers to see the importance of backstory when shaping characters and worlds, we wish we came about it through less heightened circumstances.

How much do you devote to shaping backstory for your characters? What is your process? Let us know in the comments.      

Your Comment

4 Comments

We get the process, but Cliff Booth is a fictional character, Bruce Lee isn't. The question is, is it fair to depict late actors like Bruce Lee in a negative way given what The Rock, Jason Statham and Vin Diesel demand on set to protect their brand today?

Based on a recent article here on nofilmschool and wall street journal, titled ‘Fast & Furious’ Stars’ Complicated Demand—I Never Want to Lose a Fight
these male casts negotiate how bad they can be beaten up to protect their brand. Just like them, Bruce Lee fought hard to build his own brand and legacy, but faced many adversities during his time in Hollywood while doing so, at the very least QT should have paid due diligence and consulted with is family.

August 14, 2019 at 1:58AM, Edited August 14, 1:59AM

0
Reply
Andrew
4

I do feel that the CEO of a brand may have a certainly level of bias towards the public image of that brand.

August 14, 2019 at 9:37AM

0
Reply
Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
974

First off, I loved the film. Saw it in 70mm twice within a week's time. Second, I am fully behind Tarantino's rationales behind his fictional decisions regarding actual people. I find it...FUN. However, in reading this interview, I am a little confused. He says Cliff Booth was a Green Beret who killed many men in WWII, but the GBs weren't formed until 1952. If he's going to make this stuff up, I wish he'd keep his stories straight.

August 15, 2019 at 12:00PM

0
Reply

Guys, it’s clearly Cliff Booth’s daydream. How is this controversial?

August 15, 2019 at 12:06PM, Edited August 15, 12:06PM

0
Reply
Anon
13