Brow Beat

China May Cancel Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Release Over Its Depiction of Bruce Lee

Brad Pitt and Mike Moh spar in a scene from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Brad Pitt and Mike Moh in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Sony

It seems like everyone in China will soon be watching an unaltered, bootleg version of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, has reportedly registered a complaint about the film’s depiction of her father with the country’s National Film Administration. According to the Hollywood Reporter, China’s film bureau had previously approved Tarantino’s elegiac midcentury nostalgia trip for an Oct. 25 release but reversed its decision “indefinitely.” No official reason was given, but the Reporter says that “the story swirling through the executive ranks of China’s film industry” is that release has been indefinitely delayed over an already controversial scene in which Tarantino’s fictionalized Lee arrogantly claims he could have “crippled” legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.

(Adding insult to injury, or maybe the other way around, the scene also depicts the late martial arts action star, as played by Mike Moh, getting thrown into the side of a car by Brad Pitt’s fictional stunt man, Cliff Booth.)

Sources tell THR that Bona Film Group, the film’s Beijing-based co-financiers, is in “a last-minute scramble” with Tarantino to produce a new cut in time for the film’s previously scheduled release date. “As long as Quentin can make some cuts,” a source optimistically told Variety, “it will be released as planned.”

Tarantino and Shannon Lee have been trading barbs publicly since before the film’s release, with the director making things worse at a Moscow press junket by erroneously asserting that he’d based the scene on comments made in the memoirs of her mother, Linda Lee Cadwell. (The statement Tarantino attributed to Cadwell about her husband bragging he could outfight Muhammad Ali was, in fact, made about him by third parties.)

If Tarantino succeeds in these last-minute edits, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be the first of his films to see wide release in Chinese cinemas. His antebellum revenge Western, Django Unchained, almost saw a theatrical run there in 2012, before one senior Communist Party official reportedly deemed the film’s violence too extreme. A heavily edited version debuted a month later, but by then, bootlegs of the original cut were circulating widely, leaving the official release with a paltry $2.6 million in box office.