Was Bruce Lee an American Citizen?

Opera singer


Quentin Tarantino, director of “Pulp Fiction” and more recently “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” sparked controversy when he said that Asian American actor and martial arts legend Bruce Lee ” had nothing but contempt for American stuntmen “.

Speaking on Joe Rogan’s podcast in late June 2021, Tarantino criticized the way Lee was portrayed in his movie “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” In a scene depicting the filming of the TV show “The Green Hornet”, a stuntman played by Brad Pitt defeats an arrogant Lee played by Mike Moh, in a fight. Critics, including Lee’s own daughter, who spoke in 2019, said this portrayal of Lee was inaccurate. Tarantino defended his decision, saying that in real life the stuntmen hated Lee on the set of that TV show. He said:

Bruce had nothing but disrespect for stuntmen. He always hit them with his feet, he always tagged them – it’s called scoring when you hit a stuntman for real. And he always marked them with his feet, he always marked them with his fist, and it became the point where, ‘I refuse to work with him.’ And he had nothing but disrespect for American stuntmen.

Tarantino also cited writer Matthew Polly, who wrote “Bruce Lee: A Life,” as the source of this information.

Many took offense to the statement that Lee “only had disrespect for American stuntmen,” suggesting that implied that Lee was an alien and that Tarantino was erasing Lee’s American identity.

Lee was indeed an American citizen. He was born on November 27, 1940, in San Francisco, to Chinese parents who were there on a temporary work visa. Her father was a Cantonese opera singer and actor, who performed at the Mandarin Theater, according to documents obtained from the National Archives in San Francisco. Before returning to Hong Kong, his parents wanted to make sure he would be able to return to the country later if he wished, and applied for return certification.

In an interview with the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the US Department of Justice, obtained by the National Archives in San Francisco, when asked why he wanted “the status of his son born in the United States to be established, ”Lee’s father said,“ I thought it would be a good thing since he was born here so he could come back here to study English.

Lee’s parents had included a photo of Lee’s child in the request, so the agent suggested they have their son’s fingerprints taken to identify themselves “if he wishes to return to this country on a date. later, “saying it would be a better method of identification than a photograph of a child. Lee’s father added that he intended to submit a photo of his son every few years to the US Consulate in Hong Kong.

Transcripts of their interviews and their application are available from the San Francisco National Archives:

Lee grew up in Hong Kong and returned to the United States around the age of 18.

Tarantino’s implication that Lee himself was not American wasn’t the only thing he was wrong about. Polly tweeted a response to Tarantino’s comments, saying his book never said Lee disrespects stuntmen.

Gene LeBell, a real-life stuntman who actually locked horns with Lee on the set of “The Green Hornet” told a very different story in an interview with OZY:

According to LeBell, Lee was working hard on the set of The Green Hornet but was screwing up the stuntman’s mess. They couldn’t convince him that he could take it slow and that it would still look great on film. The show’s stunt coordinator, Bennie Dobbins, needed a ringtone to take care of Lee, so he called Judo Gene.

LeBell says that when he got on set, Dobbins told him to put Lee “in a headache or something.”

So LeBell came up and grabbed Lee. “He started making all these noises that he became famous for,” said LeBell, “but he didn’t try to counter me, so I think he was more surprised than anything else.”

Then LeBell lifted Lee onto his back in what’s called a firefighter’s transport and ran around the set with him.

“Take me down or I’ll kill you!” Lee yelled.

“I can’t put you down or you’re going to kill me,” LeBell said, holding Lee there for as long as he dared before he put it down, saying, “Hey, Bruce, don’t kill me. , champion.

Back on his feet, Lee didn’t kill LeBell. Instead, Lee acknowledged that the lack of grappling was a deficiency in the Jeet Kune Do style of martial arts he was developing. So Lee trained with LeBell for a little over a year, with LeBell showing him armbands, leg locks and takedowns, and Lee teaching LeBell kung fu kicks.

They ended up training together, and Lee incorporated grappling moves into his on-screen fights. The article concluded that LeBell was already an accomplished martial artist in his own right, that a high level of skill was required to take on Lee, and the scene Tarantino had with Pitt and Moh sold both the stuntman and the short actor.