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Chinese officials halt release of ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ over Bruce Lee depiction

But Chinese fans will still likely get to see both versions, one way or another.

Chinese officials halt release of ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ over Bruce Lee depiction
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

Shannon Lee may have finally found a way to force Quentin Tarantino to rethink his portrayal of her legendary father, Bruce Lee, to everyone’s satisfaction.

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She petitioned the Chinese government to halt the release of Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and it did.

As first reported in the Hollywood Reporter, the film’s Chinese backer, the Bona Film Group, is working “frantically” with Tarantino to recut the film in time for its originally scheduled October 25 release.

This leaves the writer-director with no choice but to edit the film to improve its portrayal of martial arts master Bruce Lee if he wants to see the film open to millions of Chinese fans. Recutting the film to please Lee, Chinese authorities, and Chinese film fans is the price to pay for exposure to the vast Chinese filmgoing audience.

Tarantino has run afoul of Chinese censors in the past—and complied. In 2012, censors halted the release of Django Unchained, allegedly due to what Chinese officials considered excessive violence, moments before its scheduled premiere. As a result, the film was heavily cut and rereleased a month later.

The problem back then was that Tarantino didn’t act fast enough to score at the box office. By the time the sanitized version reached Chinese theaters, unedited pirated versions were widely available. There’s no reason to think that pirated, subtitled copies of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood won’t go into wide circulation in China, if they haven’t already. Fans of both Tarantino and Lee will then have the option of seeing either or both versions of the film.

In the case of Django, fans opted for the pirated unedited version, but Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is different because it features Bruce Lee, who is a hero to Chinese moviegoers.

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Shannon Lee objected to her father being portrayed as an arrogant newcomer who challenges Brad Pitt’s stuntman character to a fight and is subsequently thrown into a parked car. An op-ed in the South China Morning Post called Lee’s portrayal problematic, writing, “It is frustrating to see Lee reduced to a comedy punchline. He is a hero and an icon for millions of people, especially Asians, and is one of, if not the most, famous figure to represent their culture on a global stage.”

Meanwhile, Tarantino, whose love of Hong Kong cinema is well known, has always insisted that based on his research, his depiction of Lee is fair. The delay from Chinese authorities gives Tarantino a chance to reimagine Lee.

But even if he decides not to go forward with an edit, Shannon Lee made her point, and the film will be available in China with or without official sanction.

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