As far as martial arts and cinema go, Bruce Lee is a highly recognizable icon. However, Quentin Tarantino’s portrayal of him in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood could not be any farther from the truth.
The director made headlines after Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee expressed her dismay in how her father was portrayed as arrogant and brags about being able to “cripple” Muhammad Ali. Now, Lee’s martial arts protege, Filipino-American Jeet Kune Do expert Dan Inosanto recalls his humility.
“Bruce Lee would have never said anything derogatory about Muhammad Ali because he worshiped the ground Muhammad Ali walked on. In fact, he was into boxing more so than martial arts,” says Inosanto. He is one of only three students who were trained by Lee to teach Jeet Kune Do at his martial arts institutes.
“He was never, in my opinion, cocky. Maybe he was cocky in as far as martial arts because he was very sure of himself. He was worlds ahead of everyone else. But on a set, he’s not gonna show off,” Inosanto recalls, adding that its highly unlikely that a stuntman could’ve bested the martial artist in a fight. “Bruce Lee broke ground for Asian Americans. Breaking in as an Asian was very, very difficult at that time. He paved the way for all the action stars.”
“He was continuously marginalized and treated like kind of a nuisance of a human being by white Hollywood, which is how he’s treated in the film by Quentin Tarantino,” says Says Shannon Lee.