Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may have been a hit, both for Quentin Tarantino and for non-franchise blockbusters, but it’s not been without controversy. One of the points of contention: A scene involving martial arts legend Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh). On Friday it was announced China was banning the film entirely, purportedly at the behest of Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, who took umbrage with Tarantino’s portrayal of her father. There was talk of Tarantino recutting the film, to appease the censors, but as per The Hollywood Reporter, that ain’t happening.
The scene in question finds Brad Pitt’s character, stunt man Cliff Booth, getting into a fight with Lee on the set of The Green Hornet, the American TV show on which he co-starred in the late ’60s. The episode in question guest stars Rick Dalton, Leonardo Di Caprio’s fading screen idol, with Booth enlisted as his double. While killing time, Booth and Lee get into an argument that culminates in the two engaged in a mano-e-mano, one that ends in a draw.
The scene earned a fair amount of criticism, some charging that it misrepresents and/or disrespects Lee, with friends and colleagues — including Kareem Abdul-Jabar, who studied martial arts under him and appeared in 1972’s never-completed Game of Death — saying Lee would never have fought someone on-set. Others came to Tarantino’s defense, including Moh himself, though that did little to calm the storm.
And now here we are, with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood barred from release in one of the planet’s largest and most movie-hungry nations. But Tarantino, who has final cut in his contract, reportedly isn’t budging. The film would have been the filmmaker’s first proper release in China, incredibly, and its release likely would have added considerably to its already large $366 million global haul.
Meanwhile, the Once Upon a Time scuffle is only the latest clash between American entertainers and the Chinese government. Add Tarantino to a group that includes the NBA, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and the LGBTQ parts of Bohemian Rhapsody — august company indeed.