Quentin Tarantino has defended the controversial portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, after Lee’s family argued that the film treated him in a similar way to “white Hollywood” when the actor and martial artist’s career first took off.

According to Variety, Tarantino fielded questions about the ‘arrogance’ of Mike Moh’s Lee, saying to press that “Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy”.

The director referred to the scenes in which a swaggering Bruce Lee challenges Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth to a fight on the set of the fictionalised Green Hornet TV show. “The way he was talking, I didn’t just make a lot of that up,” Tarantino said.

Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon
Getty Images

“I heard him say things like that, to that effect. If people are saying, ‘Well he never said he could beat up Muhammad Ali,’ well yeah, he did. Not only did he say that, but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read. She absolutely said that.”

Tarantino also responded to the divided reaction to Cliff and Bruce’s fight in the movie, insisting that the scenario is “fictional” and that a “fictional character” can do anything.

“If you ask me the question, ‘Who would win in a fight: Bruce Lee or Dracula?’ It’s the same question. It’s a fictional character. If I say Cliff can beat Bruce Lee up, he’s a fictional character so he could beat Bruce Lee up.”

Related: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood saw Leonardo DiCaprio actually set co-stars on fire

Just last week, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s co-stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo revealed that Tarantino’s original screenplay saw Bruce Lee lose to Cliff, a move that both the crew and Brad Pitt considered “concerning”.

“I know that Brad had expressed his concerns, and we all had concerns about Bruce losing,” Alonzo said. “Everyone involved was like, ‘How is this going to go over?’ Brad was very much against it. He was like, ‘It’s Bruce Lee, man!'”

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Bruce Lee, trailer
Sony Pictures

To find out if the portrayal of Bruce Lee is the only controversy Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is courting (spoiler: it’s not), check out Digital Spy‘s review of the “rich” but “indulgent” film here.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is out now in US cinemas and is released in UK cinemas on August 14.

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