China has blocked Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood one week before it was set to premiere. China backer Bona Film Group is reportedly working with Tarantino on a new cut to appease China's National Film Administration. While there was no reason given for the change of plans, there has been speculation that it is due to Bruce Lee's daughter, Shannon Lee, allegedly making a "direct appeal to China's National Film Administration, asking that it demand changes to her father's portrayal."
Actor Mike Moh portrays Bruce Lee in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, who is the only Chinese character in the movie. At the time of its release, many were critical of Tarantino's portrayal of Lee, including Shannon Lee and the late martial artist's good friend and collaborator Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In the movie, Lee is shown as cocky and gets into a friendly fight with Brad Pitt's character where nobody is crowned winner. With that said, it is implied that Pitt's character would have won.
While it has not been confirmed, sources close to Beijing's Bona Film Group say Shannon Lee is behind the unexpected shutdown. Bona has a big stake in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which was supposed to be Quentin Tarantino's first proper release in China. As it stands, the movie is at $366 million globally, and the Chinese box office receipts were estimated to bring it to at least $400 million. Tarantino's 2012 project Django Unchained was also set to have a Chinese premiere, only to have been pulled minutes before showtime.
Obviously, China has been in the news a lot lately after a dust up with the NBA and long-running animated series South Park. Being critical of the Chinese government is a surefire way to get a project banned in the country, which Comedy Central learned when South Park was completely scrubbed from the Chinese internet. The Hong Kong protests are still raging on and they remain to be a hot button topic around the world. So, the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood blocking isn't too much of a surprise, even though it does not speak out against the protests or criticize the Chinese government.
Django Unchained did finally get a Chinese release, but it was after some heavy editing was done. By the time the movie hit theaters, it had already been bootlegged in its uncut format and shared thousands of times. While Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may still get a Chinese release, it may prove to be too late, which will hurt it at the box office. It's unclear if Bona Films and Quentin Tarantino are actually working on cutting out the Bruce Lee material from the movie or not. For now, we'll just have to wait and see. The Hollywood Reporter was the first to reveal China's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood blocking.