Tarantino balks at chopping of martial artist Bruce Lee scenes in 'Once Upon a Time in America'

Director Quentin Tarantino is used to yelling "cut" to end a scene on his films. But the colorful director is not in the habit of people telling him to cut and now that  China has reportedly told him to edit his hit movie,  “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” the  filmmaker is saying "stick it."

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Beijing-based Bona Film Group, one of the investors in the film, and China's Film Bureau, at the behest of Shannon Lee has asked Tarantino to alter scenes in the film. Set in 1969, the requested cuts involve her father Bruce Lee, known for his martial arts films and a co-starring role in the comic book TV series, "The Green Hornet."

The trade publication is reporting that a "source close to the situation" claims Tarantino is "taking a take-it-or-leave-it stance" on the film slated to be released in China on Oct. 25.

Given China's appetite for Western movies, the film -- which features a western theme in its "movie-within-a-movie" plot was expected to garner tens of millions of dollars in sales, pushing the global box office tally "past the $400 million mark."

At issue is the portrayal of kung fu legend Bruce Lee, whom Pitt's stuntman character encounters in the film. Played by Mike Moh, who was in “School Dance” and had a recurring role in Fox's “Empire," Lee is depicted as a cocky and arrogant tough guy who Pitt gets the better of in a brief confrontation. The scene runs counter to the Lee seen on the big and small screen as his films and "The Green Hornet" he was almost always the victor in a fight.

The $90 million production is on its way to being Tarantino's biggest grossing film topping the likes of "Pulp Fiction," "Inglorious Bastards" and "The Hateful Eight." Despite this success, "One Upon a Time" has also drawn criticism domestically. Former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a close personal friend of Lee, wrote in the Hollywood Reporter that he was torn over the film.

While an admitted fan of Tarantino’s work, he said that Lee’s portrayal is demeaning and handled in a “sloppy and somewhat racist way.” The Basketball Hall of Famer personally remembers Lee’s fight to open for more authentic portrayals of Asians on film.

“During our years of friendship, he spoke passionately about how frustrated he was with the stereotypical representation of Asians in film and TV,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “The only roles were for inscrutable villains or bowing servants.”


Tarantino’s depiction of Lee, Abdul-Jabbar says, runs counter to the responsibility directors have when portraying historic figures “to maintain a basic truth about the content of their character.”