The director’s ode to late-Sixties Hollywood would have marked the first time a non-edited Tarantino film received a widespread release in China, where Tarantino’s violent films don’t make it past the country’s strict censors. Additionally, Variety reports that Tarantino was steadfast in his refusal to edit the film in an effort to placate Chinese censors.
While no explanation has been given for halting the movie’s release by China, a source told The Hollywood Reporter that it was “put on hold” after Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter, “filed a complaint to China’s National Film Administration” due to the portrayal of her late father as “arrogant” and “boastful.”
Despite Lee’s complaint, Tarantino stood by his depiction of the Fist of Fury star telling a Moscow press conference, “Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy. The way he was talking, I didn’t just make a lot of that up.”
The Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, portrayed by Mike Moh, is “cocky” and asserts “he could have crippled Muhammad Ali in a fight.” After his claim, Pitt’s character Cliff Booth, a stuntman and veteran, have a “friendly” fight. While there’s no defined winner, Pitt seems to have taken the lead by the end after throwing Lee into the side of a car.
The movie would have been Tarantino’s first release in China and was expected to help worldwide box office profits earn over $400 million. The wrinkle in the movie’s release plan hit both Sony Pictures and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Chinese financier, Beijing-based Bona Film Group.
Tarantino was previously challenged by China with the release of his 2012 film Django Unchained, ultimately deciding to eliminate graphic scenes of violence and nudity after the film was pulled. When it finally got a re-release in China, it flopped, making $2.7 million at the box office.