With the NBA still trying to navigate its way through a public relations nightmare in the wake of both players and officials backing Communist China and its suppression of free speech in Hong Kong, one unlikely American artist has put the Chinese Communists in their place.
Never one to play the shrinking violet, writer/director Quentin Tarantino recently made a political, artistic, and monetary statement few creative types would dare imagine and one which will ally him with throngs of people with whom he has little, if anything, in common. Today was the scheduled opening date for Tarantino’s latest opus “Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood” (OUATIH) in Mainland China. Contrary to popular belief, this was not the first Tarantino to possibly open in China (more on that in a bit), but will likely be the last.
When it was revealed the movie would be playing in her father Bruce’s homeland, Shannon Lee was none too pleased. Having already seen the movie stateside, Lee took umbrage with Tarantino’s portrayal of her dad in the film. The lone scene where Bruce (Mike Moh) appears is on the lot of a TV studio where Bruce (as the character Kato) is on a break while taping an episode of “The Green Hornet.” He starts a conversation with veteran stunt man Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) which doesn’t go well and the pair begins fighting. While Bruce starts with a vengeance the skirmish ends with Booth tossing him into a parked car hard enough to cause significant damage to the vehicle. This tussle never actually happened; something Shannon either might not realize or chooses to interpret through her own tainted prism.
Not unlike many portions of Tarantino’s World War II flick “Inglourious Basterds,” “OUATIH” is what is referred to as “revisionist history” — meaning it mixes fictional and non-fictional people and events. “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” and “Argo” are two other revisionist history productions. Some people would say Oliver Stone’s “JFK” fits the bill as well.
So determined was Shannon to protect her father’s image and legacy, she petitioned China’s National Film Administration (NFA) to force Tarantino to modify or outright excise the scene as to not damage the memory of one of the nation’s most famous sons.
Having already pulled in over $368M globally since it’s July 26 release, “OUATIH” has more than quadrupled its’ $90M budget and conservative estimates indicate the gross in China could have easily pushed it over the $400M mark and well beyond, something which will never happen.
In a beyond-impressive show of iron will and artistic integrity, Tarantino refused to remove the scene or in any way edit the film in order to placate the Chinese government. Based on his lucrative contract with Sony, which guarantees him a hefty percentage of gross receipts, Tarantino is leaving a ton of cash on the table but emerges with his dignity intact. Unlike the sniveling and cowardly NBA millionaires and their selective outrage, the proudly left-leaning Tarantino has instantly become a conservative/free-speech hero — probably not something he relishes. It is worth mentioning Tarantino’s Sony contract gives him the ultra-rare “final cut” authority. Even if Sony wanted to release an edited version of “OUATIH” in China, it would be in breach.
Tarantino has always been a cinematic iconoclast; a rebel with a cause who doesn’t give a flying fig what you might think of his politics, his slightly-askew perspective, his frequent coupling of pop-culture with sacred cow institutions, or, in this case, the lampooning of a revered and deceased martial artist. If Tarantino — who strongly altered the ultimate fate of both Adolf Hitler and Sharon Tate — surely he can retroactively deflate Bruce Lee’s towering ego. Again, to note: Tarantino is a huge lifelong fan of Bruce Lee.
In the interest of full disclosure, this is not the first time Tarantino has had a testy encounter with the Chinese government over the content of one of the films. Citing too much nudity and violent content, the NFA requested his edit “Django Unchained” for Chinese release, which is odd as the only nudity in the movie is a less than two-second glimpse of a naked and strategically blocked Kerry Washington.
Whether it was Tarantino or producer Harvey Weinstein, the requested cuts were made and the film completely tanked. Pulled from release after less than two weeks, some attribute its’ failure to the fact that the uncut version of the movie had already been widely bootlegged throughout most of the country.
In an ironic twist, retribution comeuppance, Tarantino and Sony are indeed releasing “OUATIH” today but not in China. A newly-edited version adding 10 minutes of unreleased footage spread out over four scenes was added and (no spoilers ahead) doesn’t change the plot or the overall complexion of the narrative. If you’re not a rabid Tarantino completist or have already seen the first version, this new cut shouldn’t be a priority.
If more Americans took a similar tough stance against this oppressive and autocratic regime (yes, this means you LeBron James) and exhibited more backbone perhaps the rest of the world would follow suit. Tarantino has now denied the bullying Chinese from seeing his movie.
That’s true power.
Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets and is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and he recently co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Over the last two decades, Mr. Clark has written over 3,500 movie reviews and film related articles for the Gwinnett Daily Post and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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