Bruce Lee: My hands are registered as lethal weapons. We get into a fight, I accidentally kill you… I go to jail.
Cliff Booth: Anybody accidentally kills anybody in a fight, they go to jail. It’s called manslaughter.
The new Tarantino movie has been out for a little while and surprisingly, the big controversy seems to be about how they portrayed Bruce Lee. In the film, Brad Pitt plays Cliff Booth, a stuntman who is not getting much work these days. His boss/buddy Rick Dalton (Leonardo DeCaprio) still has enough pull to get him a gig here and there, and in the film, he gets to (maybe) do some work on The Green Hornet, where he meets Bruce Lee. Bruce is holding court while waiting to shoot a scene and when Cliff laughs at some of his smack talking, Bruce challenges him to a “friendly contest.” Bruce wins round one with a flying side kick. Booth says, “try that again” and wins round two by catching the kick and throwing Lee into a car. Round three is broken up by an angry stunt coordinator.
Shannon Lee (Bruce Lee’s daughter) among others, has complained this scene depicts her father as an arrogant asshole and they seem to hint that it’s kind of racist. I love Bruce (as you can see from my many articles on him, including this one from many years ago discussing this exact Lee-Tate-Manson connection. Because I love him, and have been intrigued by his life, training methods, and philosophies since the Seventies, I’ve come to know a great deal about him (as much as you can know from reading books and watching interviews). It’s pretty clear from those who knew him that he was not only very intelligent and innovative, he was also pretty cocky and made some pretty big talk (notably at the Sun Sing Theater in San Francisco). It got him into trouble many times, especially in the Oakland years. While this scene is obviously exaggerated, it seems in keeping with Bruce’s personality as reported by friends and foes alike. Plus, I feel like (in the final cut) he doesn’t really lose the fight. He knocks Cliff on his ass in the first exchange. He gets tossed into the door, but gets right up without complaining. And then they are both ready to go for round three.
Also, I feel like this is a wink to the presence on the Green Hornet set of Gene LeBell, a legendary tough guy and another contender for inventing Mixed Martial Arts.
Ultimately, I feel like this controversy is more unhealthy idolatry of Bruce. He was a man, not a god. He could be beaten. In this movie (i.e., fantasy) the Pitt character is a war hero and badass street fighter. Bruce weighed 130 pounds maybe. Pitt looks big in this movie, so maybe 5’11” and 185? I feel likew the outraged Bruce defenders are implying that he couldn’t be beaten at all, which is a bit much. People need to lighten up – are you saying no one can make a little fun of Bruce’s cocky side? I love him, he led me and many others to martial arts, and was a great filmmaker, but he was also just a flesh and blood man.
What do you think? Was it offensive?