Shannon Lee: Does Quentin Tarantino Hate Bruce Lee?
July 5, 2021 7:38 PM   Subscribe

No, he doesn't, but he does love fetishising certain subcultures more than he loves (or has any interest in) humanising any members of said subculture.

I was listening to an interview with him recently and he did two things I found interesting:

1) A lot of awkward, embarrassing hand-wringing over criticism of his films from people who "could never make films themselves". 🙄 I thought at the time he was alluding to talk over depiction of women but in retrospect I think it was this issue. Or maybe both, as nothing was addressed directly or with the slightest shred of awareness of having possibly made a misstep.

2) He presented a timeline of cinema that omitted 60s French cinema. This is notable because it was wildly influential globally and ... the guy's own production company is named after a 60s French film? I think I was tricked into thinking he was a lot more worldly than he really is, just because his films are filled with clumsy references to Hong Kong and Fremch cinema. Oh well.

I don't know what conclusions to draw from this but he is probably the most talented and least awful (as a human) filmmaker who I no longer want anything to do with anything he makes. I felt sick watching his gleeful depictions of violence against women in Once Upon a Time ... and he has become somehow even more weird after marrying an Israeli and moving to Israel.
posted by seraphine at 7:49 PM on July 5 [19 favorites]

I ended up watching Once Upon a Time for the first time last night (having never really read much about it or paid attention when it came out) and yeah. That portrayal of Bruce Lee was jarring, to say the least. I'd call it flat-out racist, as well as incredibly disrespectful. (I also really REALLY struggled with watching Brad Pitt's unrepentant wife-killer character viciously beat a woman to death towards the end of the movie.) Kinda made me question if I love his other movies as much as I think I do.
posted by Go Banana at 8:02 PM on July 5 [18 favorites]

Mods feel free to delete this post from someone who hasn’t seen the film.

I don’t take any issue with any of Ms. Lee’s grievances on any subject other than the contention that a Hollywood actor “had no parallel as a martial artist.”

I’ve been active in the traditional martial arts community as well as combat sports for about a quarter century now and the standard litany of criticisms of Mr. Lee have been a trope as long as I’ve been around. It’s not particularly weird or iconoclastic in modern times to suggest that Bruce Lee might not have been the greatest fighter.

Many people are uncomfortable with the Lee hagiography. The evidence we have of Mr. Lee’s unscripted fighting prowess is pretty scant, other than stories told by people whose own careers either started from or continue to rely on their connections to him.

There were many venues of martial arts competition available throughout the world in Mr. Lee’s lifetime and he did not avail himself of them. He instead made movies, and we are all richer for it. They are fantastic movies, but they are not in themselves evidence that he was a fighter any more than the ___ Almighty movies are evidence of the divinity of Morgan Freeman.
posted by The Monster at the End of this Thread at 8:18 PM on July 5 [19 favorites]

Kinda made me question if I love his other movies as much as I think I do.

Jackie Brown is the one I always come back to. Such a perfect little movie.
posted by hippybear at 8:40 PM on July 5 [19 favorites]

I was saving a seat for Jackie Brown, too. That movie was his greatest stride to me.
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 8:50 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]

I don't know if Tarantino hates Bruce Lee, but I was pretty surprised Tarantino didn't know Lee was American. That seems like a huge fucking blind spot for a movie buff. I say this as a fan of earlier Tarantino work, generally, and Jackie Brown, especially.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:54 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]

Tarantino is his own worst enemy. First of all, Tarantino is referencing Matthew Polly's (Washington Post, etc.) 2018 Bruce Lee: A Life which I highly recommend. As far as I know nothing in the book has been discredited and Bruce comes off no worse or better than his contemporaries. Though Tarantino's takeaways are bizarre as he didn't know Bruce Lee was not American? I feel as if we read different books.

For those who haven't watched it, Once in a Time in Hollywood is an alternate fiction that parallels either a dream or more likely the acid trip that's the penultimate scene in the movie. Characters aren't quite their real life counterparts and truly fictional characters dip in and out like a Pynchon novel. The scene being referred to has Brad Pitt in a tuxedo, drinking milk and dishing out the quips to Bruce Lee like a wrestler talking to a heel. Spoiler! But Brad Pitt quickly and effortlessly manages to defeat Bruce Lee in one swift move and doesn't wrinkle his tux. It is only broken up by the jarring appearance of yet another Tarantino muse: his own stunt man. So we have Brad Pitt playing a stunt man, throw Bruce Lee's character into a car in an over the top stunt, broken up on set by Tarantino's own go to stunt man (stunt woman?) ... the whole scene is so meta and post-modern it begins to hurt a bit.

But then Tarantino doubles down and says no he really meant to show Bruce Lee in a bad light? To poorly quote an old Metafilter joke, that's like the director of Chungking Express asking how you liked his new movie about jogging. Of all the fiction and all the dreamlike nature of the film the one thing that we're meant to take literally is an otherwise somewhat non-essential scene of Bruce Lee fighting Brad Pitt? And yes I said Brad Pitt as I assumed that Brad Pitt was playing a character of himself, down to his Tennessee accent from Fury, looking suave as if he was in Ocean's 11. But uh maybe I give Tarantino too much credit?
posted by geoff. at 10:09 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]

Quentin Tarantino on the Bruce Lee "Hollywood" Controversy

WARNING: contains Joe Rogan.

The short version:

"I can understand his daughter having problem with it, it's her father. I can get that. But anybody else -- **** a ****."

[Tarantino later gets into the fact that Lee apparently wasn't much respected by the stunt people in Hollywood at the the time and vice versa, which begins to make sense of the contentious sequence in question, puts it into relevant historic context.]
posted by philip-random at 10:38 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]

Also Matthew Polly on Twitter discrediting Tarantino and citing the passage in which he talks about Bruce Lee wanting to change stunt choreography to be more realisitc. What's more bizarre is that in the original script Tarantino had Cliff (Brad Pitt) defeating Bruce Lee by taking a cheap shot, but was talked out of it to make Cliff look more tough by being able to defeat Bruce Lee easily.

The reality gets more surreal but unfortunately wasn't played out in the movie: Polanski initially assumed the murder of his wife was committed by the man teaching her how to perform stunts at the time... Bruce Lee.
posted by geoff. at 10:51 PM on July 5

When I first saw OUaTiH, I totally read the fight scene as Cliff's own very biased recollection of what happened, including an over the top intentional rope a dope on the first exchange. I was really surprised when talking with others that they didn't see that as Cliff's "Bragging Version of What Happened" - aka the part where Cliff is the hero.

And then between the novel and the umpteen interviews QT has given, well I guess I'm wrong - at least by directorial intent.

I mean, it makes perfect sense that this violent wastoid of a dude would remember the fight that way, they always do!
posted by drewbage1847 at 11:04 PM on July 5 [7 favorites]

ESPNN had an article Could Bruce Lee win a real fight?

The Monster at the End of this Thread may dismiss:
other than stories told by people whose own careers either started from or continue to rely on their connections to him.

but I still find this this statement in the ESPNN article about Lee before he was famous in the US interesting:
Lee worked for years with the likes of Norris and Joe Lewis, two of the most celebrated non-boxing fighters of their day. Before he became an action star, Norris was the world middleweight karate champion from 1968 to 1974. Lewis won what is regarded as both the first kickboxing match in the U.S. and the bridge between the karate point fighting era and the full-contact kickboxing we know today.

Joe Lewis talks about Bruce Lee.

There are some old photos of Bruce Lee winning a Hong Kong boxing school championship in 1959.
posted by eye of newt at 1:23 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]

Tarintino seems to really enjoy the taste of his own feet for some strange and completely unknown reason that will forever be an unsolved mystery.
posted by loquacious at 3:03 AM on July 6 [21 favorites]

When I first saw OUaTiH I totally read the fight scene as Cliff's own very biased recollection of what happened, including an over the top intentional rope a dope on the first exchange.

I saw it as an even more recursive thing - I saw it as Cliff's own biased fantasy about something that could happen. I don't think he actually had gone to the set yet; I think he was waiting for (Leo DiCaprio's character) to get him a job on set first.

But that's still different from Tarantino's own statements which right now aren't a good look.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:36 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]

eye of newt,

I don't want to threadsit or change the focus of the thread which is more about the Tarantino thing, but yes, many of us do dismiss those things because Lewis is one of the people I mentioned whose career was boosted by his association with Lee. Norris less so, but Norris never had anything to gain from disparaging Lee.

The photos are neat. I had seen some of them before. It's hard to tell from photos whether a boxing match was good, although the words "high school" aren't a good sign. Usually that story is told with references to a character named Gary Elm, who martial artists studying Lee have tried and failed to find for years.

The interesting part I hadn't heard was the part of the story where he used two strikes that are both illegal in boxing to defeat his opponent. If that's the case the only impressive part of the story is where he was granted the victory instead of being disqualified. You could probably win a free throw contest with Steph Curry if you hit him with a palm strike and a hammerhand too.

Anyway, I don't want to derail so I'll sit back and read and let everyone else carry on. Many electrons have been spilt over the question of whether Bruce Lee was the real deal or not over the years and we're unlikely to settle it here. I was mostly just bringing it up above to mention that skepticism of Lee isn't unique to Tarantino and while I'm sure it's sometimes rooted in race it also often isn't. I don't think many avid martial artists doubt that the greatest martial artist of all time was Asian, just that it was this man in particular.
posted by The Monster at the End of this Thread at 3:46 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]

I've seen the film. The fight was interrupted and pretty much ended in a draw. No winner or loser. I thought the actor who portrayed Lee was brilliant.
posted by Beholder at 3:56 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine was defending Quentin by saying "It's a fairy tale of Hollywood where everything is made up!"

To which I responded "Then because everything is made up, I can say that Quentin hates Bruce Lee because he filmed barefoot and he just doesn't find male feet sexy."

That's my theory, and I'm stickin' to it.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:15 AM on July 6 [10 favorites]

I saw it as Cliff's own biased fantasy about something that could happen. I don't think he actually had gone to the set yet; I think he was waiting for (Leo DiCaprio's character) to get him a job on set first.

That was my take on it too. When you see him working on the roof just after that scene, he mutters "Just as well . . ." - he got thrown off the set in his own fantasy.
posted by rochrobbb at 4:32 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]

I thought Cliff was recalling his last job with the same stunt coordinator, and then based on his unreliable narration, admitting that Rick made the right call not to bring him along for the new job.
posted by cardboard at 4:49 AM on July 6

I enjoy his films quite a bit but he really needs to learn to shut the hell up.
posted by octothorpe at 5:48 AM on July 6 [8 favorites]

Every addict should just get locked in a private movie theatre with Q.T. and P.T.A. on coke, and they’ll never want to do it again - Fiona Apple
posted by Lanark at 6:12 AM on July 6 [32 favorites]

There was a time when a new Tarantino movie would be the top priority in my life, but I fell asleep halfway through watching The Hateful Eight at home a few years back, didn't bother finishing it, and haven't seen Once Upon a Time... yet. And what's weird is, I still love those previous movies, and wasn't disliking Hateful Eight or anything. I just don't have the excitement anymore, probably due to Tarantino himself and that old feeling of "I grew up, he didn't."

I can see how, in making a movie about the inside baseball of old Hollywood, he'd lean into the version of history he'd learned in one-on-one conversations with people who were in it at the time, people who, Tarantino being Tarantino, he'd view as impossibly cool giants due to their proximity to this kind of history, and that it's more interesting to reject the popularly-known history/hagiography of an icon (particularly one whose iconography he's already quoted heavily in previous movies.)

It does feel like an instance where the "research," such as it is, only went skin-deep though. There seems to be a pretty commonplace phenomenon in human neuroplasticity where we get one idea in our heads about something that we don't investigate very thoroughly (in this case "Bruce Lee is so cool, I love all his movies, check out that yellow jumpsuit oh my god!") but that idea then gets dislodged by something that seems the slightest bit more authoritative ("Did you know that he didn't even compete? It was all for the movies. Yeah, stuntmen hated that dude.") And then the second idea that dislodged the first becomes so firmly rooted that it's nearly impossible to remove. That looks like maybe what happened here.

And Shannon Lee obviously has her own baises here, which she readily owns up to , but I don't doubt that her knowledge on this particular subject is deeper than almost anyone's. More than anything, I imagine that Shannon Lee cares very much how Bruce Lee's legacy is presented and remembered, while Tarantino cares about how the scene plays and then moves on.

More than anything I'm struck by how, in his combination of being undeniably talented in his chosen craft and being an absolutely insufferable, self-obsessed, cuckoopants asshole of a person, Tarantino really is the Kanye of filmmaking.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:29 AM on July 6 [20 favorites]

but I fell asleep halfway through watching The Hateful Eight at home a few years back, didn't bother finishing it,

Hateful Eight was indeed hateful, an ugly waste of my time. I got about halfway through, then went to wikipedia and read the plot summary for the rest. But Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is a ride I mostly loved, though it could easily have done without the Bruce Lee stuff, and really, all the violence. But that's Hollywood, I guess -- always over the top.

I did enjoy the Half In The Bag take on it.
posted by philip-random at 6:40 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]

^ same, Hateful Eight was immediately kind of forgettable but Once Upon a Time was a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience (made guiltier with each other comment I read here). I will say this about Lee: there is no way any human can live up to the mythology that coalesced over yet another incredibly talented, good looking entertainer who died young.

There is something about Tarantino films that I deeply enjoy, most of the time, but it increasingly feels wrong to enjoy them with each passing year. And there are a few I just can't watch, not for a first time let alone multiple times.
posted by elkevelvet at 7:01 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]

Guess the screening notes should've read, "Can we make the Hateful Eight a little more loveable?"
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:12 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]

In his book Martial Musings, Robert W. Smith - martial arts practitioner, writer and historian (see also Chinese Boxing, Masters and Methods) - claimed Lee had only 5 years martial arts training and was nowhere near a great martial artist. Smith was quite opinionated, but those opinions were at least based on a lifetime of experience and exposure to martial artists. I have no idea if his opinion of Lee is valid.
posted by Jackson at 7:23 AM on July 6

Thank you for this post, Francies. This was one of many things that bothered me about Once in a Time in Hollywood.
posted by doctornemo at 7:54 AM on July 6

(The end really depressed me. If you're going to do an alternative history about the Manson Family and Hollywood, the best you can do is... a story about rehabilitating a star? It's a dull ode to celebrity culture in the end. Bah.)
posted by doctornemo at 7:54 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]

My last Tarantino film was Inglourious Basterds, and while I enjoyed some aspects of it--the use of Bowie and Moroder's "Cat People" for the one scene especially--it wasn't as compulsively rewatchable as Pulp Fiction.

As for Shannon Lee, of course she's biased. But she's absolutely correct that Tarantino jobbed her father to make his own character look tougher, after raiding his iconographic looks for Kill Bill, and that's not a good look for him. I'm not particularly interested in debating whether or not Lee was a particularly superlative martial artist; if there are people who have an interest in promoting and prolonging his reputation, there are others who likewise seem to feel that he had an extraordinarily long and long-lived shadow, and seem to be trying to get out from under it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:07 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]

I actually thought this scene was kind of amusing trolling of some aspects of martial arts fandom when I saw the trailer. But it had not occurred to me how offensive and hurtful it was to Lee's family and to the Chinese-American community. So that is kind of instructive; I'm afraid I don't come off very well in the story.
posted by thelonius at 8:25 AM on July 6

Quentin who? It's not the 1990s anymore. He hasn't made a good movie in two decades. It's time to let him go.

(This comment aimed at the cultural zeitgeist who still gets riled up when "QT" says something stupid or offensive. That's all he does to get publicity these days, it's sure not making good movies. I don't blame Ms. Lee for writing this article to correct the record though; despite his middle-aged mediocrity people still give him power.)
posted by Nelson at 8:26 AM on July 6 [11 favorites]

Quentin Tarantino 2021 has some Louis CK 2016/Ryan Adams 2018 kind of energy, if you follow my drift.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:39 AM on July 6 [10 favorites]

I think I was tricked into thinking he was a lot more worldly than he really is

He's not so much worldly as he is a person who has watched a lot of movies.
posted by box at 8:58 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]

Quentin Tarantino 2021 has some Louis CK 2016/Ryan Adams 2018 kind of energy, if you follow my drift.

I don't follow your drift. Could you elaborate?
posted by Cezar Golescu at 9:38 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]

I don't think he actually had gone to the set yet; I think he was waiting for (Leo DiCaprio's character) to get him a job on set first.

Leo's character does get him the job.

The scene being referred to has Brad Pitt in a tuxedo, drinking milk and dishing out the quips to Bruce Lee like a wrestler talking to a heel. Spoiler! But Brad Pitt quickly and effortlessly manages to defeat Bruce Lee in one swift move and doesn't wrinkle his tux.

That's not accurate.

1. Cliff only reluctantly calls Bruce on his bullshit -- Bruce drags it out of him. He isn't "dishing out" anything.

2. He removes his tails before the fight.

3. Lee knocks him to the ground first -- with one swift move.

4. Cliff throws him into a car in the second "round".

5. The third "round" comes up even before they're interrupted. They're doing two out of three.

I'm not really a fan of much of QT's work. I like this film and I like Jackie Brown. I skipped a bunch of them. Only bothered with this film as I'm a big fan of the era of Hollywood being "represented".

Fine with people dissing him, but at least represent it accurately.
posted by dobbs at 10:21 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]

Tarantino's the fumbling uber geek who made it on his own terms. He knows he's good (even if he isn't sometimes) which means yeah, he can be an ass. I find many of his interviews uncomfortable because he comes across as a guy who's spent way too much time alone with his own weird ideas etc and suddenly, now that people are interested, he can't shut up about them. Added to that, he can't really contain his enthusiasm so he keeps talking over people, jumping ahead. I suppose many writers have this in them. I certainly do. He just has it at a particularly accelerated level.

The upside being that he is good -- most of the time.
posted by philip-random at 10:22 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]

In The Hateful Eight, Samuel Jackson's soliloquy was so painful that it transcended the film and ruined Christopher Walken's soliloquy in Pulp Fiction.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:41 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]

Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and OUaTiH share the characteristic of being attempts to rewrite history to meet an adolescent boy's version of justice, the broad sweep of which I would assume any of us would agree with,* but which can get grubby and alienating in some of its details. I was surprised by how ... nice ... most of OUaTiH was, and would quite happily watch the film without the not-nice bits. QT is very clever, and knows exactly what he's doing, but the cruelty in his films is often like that same boy forgetting his moral compass and de-limbing unfortunate insects. It's not so much that he's good at making films, he is extraordinary at it, in a way that relatively few people are, and the critical problem is to put his many unlovely traits on one side of the scales and the sheer bravura of his films on the other, and they would teeter, but more or less balance, and eventually come down reluctantly on the side of the filmmaking. Perhaps it's felt that something can be dug up to put on the bad side of the scales to tilt the balance the other way. Given his personality and the sheer quantity of cocaine he seems to have consumed, I don't think that's completely unlikely.

Only one more movie to go, isn't it? I'd quite like him to go out on a musical in which no one has to get shot, but that's not very likely.

*I'm assuming that people in general are opposed to Nazis, slavery and serial killing cults. But I may be old-fashioned in that, who knows?
posted by Grangousier at 11:16 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]

Only one more movie to go, isn't it?

What's this?
posted by Navelgazer at 11:31 AM on July 6

What's this?

I think this alludes to a rumor I've heard a couple times that QT is getting ready to retire; something about how he at one point said he was only going to make [x] many more films and then he was done.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:40 AM on July 6

It's not a rumor. Tarantino has stated many times that he intends to make only 10 films and then retire to write novels and raise his children: Quentin Tarantino Confirms One Thing That Will Appear In His Final Film, Shares His Thoughts On The Movie’s Tone
posted by Omon Ra at 12:01 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]

I think it was ten movies. Sorry, I thought that was part of the Tarantino Mythos. But, yes, he was going to make a certain number and then stop. But he says all sorts of things, he probably doesn't remember them all.
posted by Grangousier at 12:01 PM on July 6

Tarantino has gotten grandfathered into social acceptance by my generation because we enjoyed his entertaining films and didn't try very hard to think about:

* Why a white director loves to write himself edgily using the n-word in a cameo role and nakedly enjoys doing it (Pulp Fiction)
* Why a Black person freeing himself from slavery is entirely disconnected from other Black enslaved or escaped people other than his wife - there is no Black community struggle, only assistance from a White man (Django Unchained)
* Why the best friend or love interest of every Black person is almost always a White person (Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds)
* Why he uses "ethnic" culture as a free-for-all palette for White entertainment to the point of being ridiculous (Kill Bill)

It is hard for people to make good art about cultures they aren't part of - it's extra hard when these are oppressed, marginalized, and stereotyped cultures - it's extra extra hard when you're not even trying to do justice to the matter, and Tarantino is in this bottom category. It may be time to let him go and watch movies by other people instead.
posted by splitpeasoup at 12:35 PM on July 6 [31 favorites]

It's sad to me that in response to Shannon Lee's plea for people to stop marginalising Bruce Lee and diminishing his talents, there are still comments here doing exactly that. I'm sure there's a time and place to litigate whether Bruce Lee was as talented as his legacy says he is, but I don't know if this is the space for it.

I'm an Asian-American woman, and I don't really give a shit about Quentin Tarantino. Quentin Tarantino is a rich white man in America so he's going to be fine, no matter what anyone says about him or his work.

What I care about is the fact that he's not the only white person in America who thinks it's okay to demean Asian-American people. There's a lengthy history of Asian-American men being desexualised and emasculated by white people. It's really not hard to connect the dots between historical context and what's happening here. Whether it's intentional or not, to take one of the few Asian-American men who was able to make a space for himself in a white-dominated and racist industry and turn him into a joke is some racist bullshit. Full stop.

In another article, Shannon Lee is quoted as saying: "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.”

But they didn't need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.

While Bruce Lee may no longer be with us, there are Asian-Americans living today who are alive and who are still experiencing the stereotypes, the dismissiveness and the prejudice from white Americans. We see things like this and we see white audiences laughing along. We see that it's decades since Bruce Lee's struggles, and so many white Americans still see us as caricatures. I don't know what more I can say except that I'm tired too.
posted by quadrant seasons at 2:16 PM on July 6 [50 favorites]

quadrant seasons: that's a really, really good point, and something I need to think about, because I wasn't really seeing the racism behind this in those terms, and I highly doubt most other white people (especially QT) would either, because Bruce Lee made himself synonymous with a certain brand of Badass™, because other Asian action stars followed in the path he blazed, and especially because when white Americans address our history of racism at all, it tends to be through the lens of racism towards African-Americans, or maybe Latin-Americans or Native Americans, with Asian-Americans an afterthought even in the present days when such prejudice is on the rise and literally threatening the lives of Asian-Americans.

But if QT made a movie in which there was a scene showing that George Washington Carver wasn't really all that, and people objected, even if he could point to research backing up his claims, folks would be right to ask "Okay, but why the fuck is are you targeting him with this? What is this supposed to accomplish?" It's one thing to take our icons down a peg. I think that's generally a good instinct for an artist. But one should be careful about why one is doing it, and consider that these icons mean different things to different people.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:37 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]

Great post. When I saw the film, it ruined any more ideas of watching Tarantino.
The scene, I believe stems from a story about Lee that is false and sorta silly then but Tarantino seemed to latch on it. As to Lee's talent, I believe there is no doubt.
posted by clavdivs at 2:45 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]

To refine my point above: While questioning one's heroes and subverting one's icons is a good goal for art, the artist should be aware when they're from the majority/in-power culture, and know that taking shots at the icons of those who aren't is punching down, even if the reverence in which that icon is held makes it appear to be punching up.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:58 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]

Why Are You Laughing at Bruce Lee?

This guy gets it:
But I would argue Tarantino’s decision to have Booth fight Lee to a draw doesn’t doesn’t take the air out of Lee; it takes the air out of the constructed mystique that Lee was forced to maintain. That by allowing Lee to regain a portion of his humanity, Tarantino is offering a different, more generous kind of Asian-American representation onscreen. Watching Once Upon a Time, we are not operating under the fantasy that Lee never struggled against racism, or that he wasn’t forced into an outsider role in Hollywood. Here, Lee understands that his status depends on a carefully constructed reputation for supernatural indestructibility. At the end of his fight with Tarantino’s imaginary superhero, Moh’s Lee says “nobody beat the shit out of Bruce.” While some critics saw this as another example of Hollywood doing its best to humiliate an Asian legend, I see it as a man doing his best to hold on to the key to the kingdom.

[...]Already, and in his lifetime, the sanctification of Lee’s legend was doing Lee no favors. So Once Upon a Time in Hollywood opted not to perpetuate that image, and instead turns Lee into one of Tarantino’s numerous objects of reclamation, otherwise stuck in our collective, sometimes poisonous American dreamworld. If Tarantino’s not entirely successful here, he has at least revealed the desperate lengths many will go to preserve the viability of an illusion. I am entirely empathetic with the Lee family’s concerns about Lee’s portrayal in this film — hearing audiences laugh for the wrong reasons at a loved one can only be a painful experience. But for me, if only me, watching this attempt to reconfigure a god as a man is as emotional a moment as any in the film. Lee could have quit, but he fought. His legend is amplified by his imperfections, not diminished.
posted by Cezar Golescu at 5:44 PM on July 6

Counterpoint: NAH.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:52 PM on July 6 [10 favorites]

"We were doing this Asian-American dude a solid by making him look like a chump!" is definitely an interesting kind of special pleading.
posted by tavella at 6:53 PM on July 6 [14 favorites]

This guy gets it:

That's Walter Chaw by the way, as quoted in this recent Esquire piece.

a bit more:

He was concerned, however, by hearing audience members in the theater laughing at Moh’s portrayal of the Chinese-accented Lee. "If you watch the new Tarantino, and there's any kind of audience, take note of how the audience reacts to the Bruce Lee impersonation,” Chaw tweeted. "This is what systemic racism looks like. Not the performance which is perfect, the reaction which is hard-wired into members of this culture."
posted by philip-random at 8:09 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]

There seems to be an extraordinary amount of special pleading for QT in here. It's not necessary to redeem him just because he made films you like.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:59 PM on July 6 [9 favorites]

I think it's appropriate to say he's a jackass who says stupid things and he's way off base a lot of the time, but is it necessary to make this moment of his life into a redemption-or-damnation fulcrum upon which his fate is determined? Because it is okay to defend people who do shitty things, and it's okay to hate people who do wonderful things, and the entire spectrum of what lies between that on all kinds of graphs and plots is also okay.
posted by hippybear at 10:21 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]

That's Walter Chaw by the way

Yeah, he's written and tweeted a number of times how much he appreciates Tarantino's depiction of his hero and the paternalism inherent in some of the criticisms of the Lee/Booth fight. He'd prefer to idolize Lee the human, not Lee the character or icon or whatever.
posted by Cezar Golescu at 10:31 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]

I think it's appropriate to say he's a jackass who says stupid things and he's way off base a lot of the time, but is it necessary to make this moment of his life into a redemption-or-damnation fulcrum upon which his fate is determined?

As I said before, QT is going to be his fine. His fate isn't going to be determined by random commenters on a niche website. He's not going to see this thread, and if he does, based on his response to critics to "suck a dick", he really won't care. QT might not see this thread, but I have, and other Asian-American MeFites will too.

I'm not sure how many Asian-Americans are on MeFi. I don't imagine we all agree on this subject, as evidenced by Walter Chaw's take, which differs from mine. But I guess I just expected more reflection on the harm that white artists can cause in the way they depict people from marginalised communities. Instead, there's a lot of "oh no but it's actually fine" here.

Time for me to move on from this thread, I think.
posted by quadrant seasons at 11:10 PM on July 6 [11 favorites]

But I guess I just expected more reflection on the harm that white artists can cause in the way they depict people from marginalised communities. Instead, there's a lot of "oh no but it's actually fine" here.

And this is one of the myriad reasons why there are fewer POC here than they used to be.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:36 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]

Apparently Tarantino's novelization of his own movie makes the scene even worse:
Tarantino probably isn’t going to get credit, especially from Lee’s already critical family, for putting thoughts into Bruce Lee’s head during this fight he invented to show off how cool his fictional stuntman is. Tarantino’s Lee isn’t necessarily an asshole—although the narrative repeats, as the director did on a recent Joe Rogan appearance, the disputed assertion that he treated his stuntmen on Hornet like shit. But even a favorable portrayal of Lee’s inner landscape plays into the fan-fiction-with-real-people issues surrounding OUATIH in a way that only magnifies the potential for tastelessness. It’s one thing to swap Rick Dalton in for other actors on old Paul Wendkos pictures; something else to put words into Lee’s mouth and thoughts into his head.

The actual fight, at least, plays out much as it does on film, with Lee landing the first hit on Cliff, and then Cliff hurling Lee into a car on the second go. The differences are in the details, including the fact that Booth intentionally throws the first round against Lee, lulling him into a false sense of superiority. (So, what plays out as a potentially humbling point in the film is re-contextualized as cunning strategy.) There’s also the fact that we get both men’s points of view on their goals in the fight: Lee just wants to shut the loud-mouth stuntman up, while Cliff—see point No. 1 above—is literally trying to maim Lee and end his career. (There’s even a slight suggestion that the car throw might have damaged Lee’s spine, which, given his struggles with back issues for the last three years of his life, feels especially pointed and cruel.)
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 5:13 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]

All this masturbatory film nerd nonsense about how a Hollywood director is actually not demeaning an Asian man despite all appearances -- it happens over and over again.

We went through this same charade with another film nerd idol, the Coen brothers, and the Mike Yanagita character in their film 'Fargo.' Stop the gaslighting.
posted by Borborygmus at 6:14 AM on July 7 [8 favorites]

If people really think that this about hagiography versus reality, where reality is the White dude calling out an Asian legend and hagiography is saying that he has his facts wrong, then I don't know what to say.

When did QT become the voice we need to...pull down Bruce Lee, of all people?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:52 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]

From A novel is not BuzzFeed or NPR or Instagram or even Hollywood (Me-Fi FPP posted about an hour ago):

I wish that future novelists would reject the pressure to write for the betterment of society. Art is not media. A novel is not an “afternoon special” or fodder for the Twittersphere or material for journalists to make neat generalizations about culture. A novel is not BuzzFeed or NPR or Instagram or even Hollywood. Let’s get clear about that. A novel is a literary work of art meant to expand consciousness. We need novels that live in an amoral universe, past the political agenda described on social media. We have imaginations for a reason. Novels like American Psycho and Lolita did not poison culture. Murderous corporations and exploitive industries did. We need characters in novels to be free to range into the dark and wrong. How else will we understand ourselves? —OTTESSA MOSHFEGH

I believe that Tarantino has said that once he makes his last movie, he'll be focusing mainly on novels.
posted by philip-random at 7:34 AM on July 7

That whole movie is a giant waste. I swear it was made just to finance Brad Pitt and Leonardo DeCaprio's drinking and party budget.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:41 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer that I've never seen any Quentin Tarantino or Bruce Lee movies. Violence and martial arts are not my thing.

But if you are building a scene about how Brad Pitt's character is so badass that he can defeat Bruce Lee, then why the hell would you make a mockery of of Bruce Lee? It makes no narrative sense, unless the point of that scene, per QT and the white male audience he's writing for, is not "Brad Pitt Badass" but rather "Bruce Lee Idiot."

Walter Chaw points out that "until recently the vast majority of appearances by Asian characters in mainstream American films carried with them the same potential for unintended, racially motivated laughter."

It's. Not. Unintended.
posted by basalganglia at 9:40 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]

I think it's appropriate to say he's a jackass who says stupid things and he's way off base a lot of the time, but is it necessary to make this moment of his life into a redemption-or-damnation fulcrum upon which his fate is determined?

Which moment are you referring to - the scene in the film? Or him defending it on talk shows?

Or does the fact that there are multiple candidates for what could be "this moment of his life" affect the question any?....

For the record, I don't think the film was that bad as some are saying in here; hardly the best of the year for its year, but it was up against Parasite so there was no contest in that regard (if we're talking "the film I wish hadn't gotten a Best Picture nomination, I'd have booted Ford Vs. Fairlane instead still). The treatment of Bruce Lee was uncomfortable, but I interpreted it as a fantasy of Cliff's making, which recast it as "Oh, okay, that's Cliff's fantasy, so Cliff's a dick, got it."

Tarantino's outright dismissal of the complaints are a separate, and more troubling, thing, however.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:34 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]

Ford Vs. Fairlane

The inexplicable decision to cast Andrew 'Dice' Clay didn't help.
posted by box at 11:21 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]

oh crap i meant ford vs. ferrari

shows you how much of an impression it made on me

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:22 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]

We went through this same charade with another film nerd idol, the Coen brothers, and the Mike Yanagita character in their film 'Fargo.' Stop the gaslighting.
"I told [the Coens] that the character of Mike Yanagita was the most interesting Asian American character I'd ever come across in a film script," says [actor Steve] Park, who famously released a "mission statement" in 1997 calling for better treatment of Asian Americans in Hollywood. "I got some criticism from some in the Asian American community who felt I was perpetuating a stereotype of the weak, emasculated Asian man. However, I was also supported by other Asian Americans who felt that this was an authentic and interesting character, not a stereotype.

"I understood where the criticism was coming from," he continues. "However, it's ironic how much praise I've received for this performance from people of all backgrounds, and how so many people either identified with Mike Yanagita or were just moved by him. Loneliness and desperation, unfortunately, are universal." The true reason, perhaps, why the scene still resonates 25 years on.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:30 AM on July 7 [6 favorites]

All this masturbatory film nerd nonsense

Is that necessary? Given the post title, the chances that this topic might attract a percentage of people who take great pleasure in viewing, thinking about, and discussing all things film is pretty high. The discussion on QT, his films, and specifically the Shannon Lee perspective on depictions of her father in this film and generally, may have an objectively "true and pure" vantage, but the mere mortals are left to exchange their limited perceptions.

That is okay. It's also okay to come around to changing your views on things. May I submit that "all this masturbatory film nerd nonsense" is unlikely to bring anyone around to anything, and it seems unnecessary. Are you immune to masturbatory activity? Are you right on everything? It's MeFi, shit gets awfully masturbatory here if you hadn't noticed.
posted by elkevelvet at 1:24 PM on July 7 [5 favorites]

I laughed at the scene in OUATIH, where a car gets hit by Bruce Lee. I laughed even harder at the scene where George Clooney shoots Brad Pitt between the eyes, in a closet, in Burn Before Reading. Both Pitt and Clooney, are still alive and their histories are still not set in the curated memories of family, and fans. Bruce Lee changed my life. I went to Enter The Dragon on a lark with a couple of guy friends in ~1976. Watching his physical expertise, his grace, his kinesthetic awareness, I saw that I had obliterated my physical fluency. I was basically just staggering around. So I found a great teacher and studied Kung Fu and Chinese street fighting for a couple of years. I owe his memory a debt of gratitude. It was and still is a great thing for me. Tarantino is an outrageous and great filmmaker I like art, I don't have the time to pick it all apart. I am sorry Mr. Lee died so young. Watching his last film changed my life. Tarantino is entertaining, but not a game changer.
posted by Oyéah at 5:53 PM on July 7 [5 favorites]

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