Chinese netizens condemn Tarantino’s racist portrayal of late martial arts star Bruce Lee

By Chen Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/10/20 18:18:39

Poster of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Photo: IC

According to a report from the Hollywood Reporter, US film director Quentin Tarantino will not be re-cutting his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for the Chinese mainland. Originally set for release on Friday, the film was suspended indefinitely a week before its release by Chinese regulators. 

Tarantino, who has final-cut rights for the film in his contract, refused to cooperate with Chinese authorities when the film's co-producer Bona Film Group asked him to help re-edit the film in order to re-approve the release, according to a report from film news site Cinema Blend on Sunday.

The Hollywood Reporter reported that the suspension came after Bruce Lee's daughter Shannon Lee made a direct appeal to China's National Film Administration to have her father's controversial portrayal in the film changed. No official statement about the suspension has been made by any parties involved.

"I personally do not think that Shannon Lee, as one of the films' biggest critics, is the main reason stopping the film's release in the Chinese mainland, because according to the reaction and feedback from those who have seen the film, Tarantino's use of Bruce Lee's image is rather biased and even an insult," Shi Wenxue, a film critic and teacher at the Beijing Film Academy, told the Global Times on Sunday.

The film portrays Bruce Lee as an arrogant person who claims he could have "crippled" Muhammad Ali in a fight, yet loses in a fight to Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth. 

"Bruce Lee worked on screen to change the US stereotype of Chinese. However, after half a century, we see the expression of such a stereotype, which is unacceptable," Shi said. 

Shannon Lee once told The Wrap in July that she found the film "disheartening." 

"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." 

She added that "It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father."

The hashtag related to Shannon Lee's dissatisfaction about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has earned 310 million views on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo as of Sunday.

"Bruce Lee's overconfidence and arrogant image in the film is a typical stereotype applied to Chinese in Hollywood movies. Bruce Lee spent his whole life bringing real Chinese characters to the world, but Tarantino brought this old image into his film again, which is shameful to us Chinese," one Chinese netizen commented on Sina Weibo. 

According to Shi, Chinese often play the role of gang members in Chinatown, or arrogant rich second-generation Chinese in Western film and television. For example, the Asian characters in the film Crazy Rich Asians catered to the image many US viewers have when it comes to Asians. 

Discrimination is also common off screen as well. For instance, Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran, who played a role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, suffered racist attacks and personal abuse at the hands of Star Wars fans who were dissatisfied with her character in the film. 

However, some Chinese netizens have commented that the other reason for the suspension of the film may have been the violence on display in some scenes. 

"Quentin's films often have a lot of swearing, bloody, violent, and erotic elements, which may cause concern among China's reviewing authorities," Shi said.

Although the film did original pass review, this is not the first time that one of the director's films have been pulled at the last minute in the Chinese mainland. Tarantino's Django Unchained debuted in mainland theaters back in 2013, but was subsequently pulled from cinemas on its first day of screening for "technical reason."

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