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Why Tarantino's portrayal of Bruce Lee shouldn't be taken seriously

Saturday - August 17, 2019 12:18 pm , Category : ENTERTAINMENT
New Delhi, Aug 17 (IANS) A martial arts legends family, friends and fans feel he has been insulted by an iconic filmmaker. The fallout has kept both these great artists in the news for a while now, although Quentin Tarantinos depiction of Bruce Lee in "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" - as a bigmouthed show-off who wasnt worth much as a fighter - has created a controversy movie buffs would rather avoid.

For those who came in late, Tarantino's new film, set in Hollywood of the late sixties, has a scene where Brad Pitt, cast as a fictitious Hollywood stuntman named Cliff Booth, challenges an arrogant Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh) to a fight. Lee accepts the challenge, and Booth goes on to bash him up. Booth's challenge was an outcome of Bruce Lee claiming that he could easily beat boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
More than the bash-up, Bruce Lee fans are angry at the fact that he has been reduced to a joke. As he draws stance at the start of the fight, Bruce Lee emits familiar high-pitched nasal sounds of martial arts fighters. The scene is set up in a manner that it leaves many in the audience laughing, at a portrayal that is undeniably clownish.
Tarantino's bizarre depiction of Bruce Lee surprised most action lovers because the filmmaker showered elaborate tribute on the kungfu legend in his 2003 release, "Kill Bill Volume 1". In that film, heroine Uma Thurman executes highlight action scenes in a yellow jumpsuit that is a ditto copy of Bruce Lee's gear in the film "Game Of Death".
When "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood", after its Cannes 2019 premiere, opened theatrically in the US on July 26, Bruce Lee fans naturally did not know how to react. Three days later, the martial arts idol's daughter, Shannon Lee told "The Wrap" in an interview: "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."
As the media and social media split down the middle arguing over whether Shannon Lee had overreacted, Tarantino finally broke his silence while promoting the film at Moscow. He maintained Bruce Lee was an arrogant man, so his portrayal is justified.
"Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy," Tarantino said at Moscow. "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 that," Tarantino is quoted as saying, by "Variety" magazine.
Shannon retorted saying Tarantino "could shut up", or, she added: "He could apologise or he could say, ‘I don't really know what Bruce Lee was like. I just wrote it for my movie. But that shouldn't be taken as how he really was'." She found it "troubling" that Tarantino wants "to put this forward as fact and, on the other hand, he wants to stay in fiction".
We need to understand Tarantino's cinematic idiom to get his sense of humour. Ahead of all other contemporary mainstream filmmakers in Hollywood, Tarantino stands first in the queue of claimants for the title of ‘unpredictable'. He loves to provoke, he enjoys surprising.
For all his filmmaking genius, he relishes grabbing attention any which way.

Ever since his on-screen bunch of allied soldiers (incidentally, led by Brad Pitt) bumped off Hitler in the climax of "Inglourious Basterds" - and won elaborate applauds from his vehemently loyal fan brigade the world over -Tarantino perhaps has only become bolder when it comes to changing history at will, within the confines of his fictional cinematic universe.
In "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" he has actually, wholly altered one of Hollywood's most shocking real-life tragedies. The climax of the film is based on the brutal murder of filmmaker Roman Polanski's pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie), and her friends by the Charles Manson family, after the latter broke into her home.
Only, in the film, the killings never happen. Manson's followers make the mistake of entering the home of Tate and Polanski's neighbour, the fading star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). Dalton and his friend Cliff Booth manage to finish their attackers, with some comical, though grizzly, contribution by the pet dog.
Tarantino's depiction of Bruce Lee is a part of the larger fantasy fulfillment package that the film aims at catering. It is a fantasy fulfillment imagined in an alternative reality where the gorgeous Sharon Tate isn't killed and, where Tarantino would, perhaps, have wanted Bruce Lee to realise his arrogance (although the fact is wholly debatable if Bruce Lee was indeed arrogant, Tarantino seems convinced to that extent).
That sort of a fantasy fulfillment is always wildly entertaining, just don't take it seriously. After all, it does suggest that beneath Tarantino's towering stature as an entertainer lies a stubbornly old-school, cisgender, white American male who is prejudiced about race, class and gender, and who simply won't adhere to the politically correct diktats of changing times.
In the past, such tendencies have been obvious in almost every Tarantino film. Furore is raised this time because at the wrong end of Tarantino's stick is Bruce Lee - an icon who is absolutely a bigger phenomenon than what the filmmaker has ever been.

--IANS vnc/