A fight scene between Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff, and Bruce Lee, played by Mike Moh, has enraged many people in the Martial Arts community. The scene has been criticised as disrespectful and an example of racist stereotypes.
Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee made this public statement:
“While I understand that the mechanism in the story is to make Brad Pitt’s character out to be such a badass that he can beat up Bruce Lee, the script treatment of my father as this arrogant, egotistical punching bag was really disheartening – and, I feel, unnecessary.”
It’s true. Bruce is a little arrogant in the film. But I wonder if the bigger issue is that Bruce Lee is portrayed as a mere mortal.
In the years since his death, Bruce Lee has been elevated to a legendary figure capable of killing any man by merely staring at him. He’s not the only one. Kung Fu is filled with stories of legendary Masters who had hundreds of fights and were never defeated.
These stories though, are often told by students of said Masters, with little or no corroborating evidence. They must be taken with a grain of salt. In fact, after more than 20 years of experience in Kung Fu circles, my personal opinion is that they should be taken with a grain of salt, a slice of lime, and a shot of tequila – so far fetched some of these stories are.
The question that angers so many in the Kung Fu community and might be at the heart of this criticism of Tarantino’s film is – was Bruce Lee as good a fighter as his legend suggests?
Truthfully, we have no way of knowing. He was not a professional fighter and we have no footage of any real fights he was involved in.
There is no question the man was a pioneer and a supremely gifted athlete with incredible speed. He was one of the first to introduce the idea of Mixed Martial Arts. Taking bits and pieces from different Arts to make himself a more rounded Martial Artist.
But he was an actor. Not a professional fighter.
How would he stack up against modern day MMA warriors like Conor McGregor or Khabib Nurmagomedov? It is almost a forbidden question in Kung Fu circles, but let’s be real. Could a part-time tennis player defeat Roger Federer? Of course not. So why do we think that a part-time, non-professional Martial Artist could defeat the best of the best?
We saw with Ronda Rousey, how quickly the MMA game evolves and leaves people behind. Truthfully, in a fight against someone like Conor or Khabib, Bruce Lee would probably be convincingly defeated.
But that doesn’t take away from the genius of the man. His fighting philosophy, raw athleticism and training discipline were incredible. Had he been born in modern times and trained as an MMA fighter, I have no doubt he would have been one of the best.
He was an exceptional individual, and that should be enough.