Why the China release of Quentin Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' has been cancelled

The director has refused to re-cut his film to suit the market

Brad Pitt star in Columbia Pictures Ã’Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"
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In China, Quentin Tarantino's latest film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, was set to hit big screens on Friday, October 25. However, the country's regulators have pulled the film from its schedule one week ahead of its release, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

No explanation has been given to distributor Sony Pictures Entertainment, which has also declined to comment on the move, however it has been widely speculated that the decision is related to Tarantino's controversial portrayal of martial arts hero Bruce Lee, who is of Chinese descent.

The film, which is a fictional account of events that surrounded the Manson Family murders of 1969, includes a scene with an actor playing Lee having a fight with character Cliff Booth (Pitt). Lee's own daughter, Shannon, who was not consulted during the making of the film, spoke to the LA Times after seeing the movie, saying: "While I understand that the mechanism in the story is to make Brad Pitt's character out to be [someone who] can beat up Bruce Lee, the script treatment of my father as this arrogant, egotistical punching bag was really disheartening – and, I feel, unnecessary."

Tarantino defended himself at the time, telling journalists: “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.”

US director Quentin Tarantino gestures as he poses during a photocall ahead of the italian Premiere of Tarantino's latest movie "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" in downtown Rome on August 2, 2019.  / AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
Quentin Tarantino maintains that the character he wrote, Cliff (Brad Pitt), could beat Bruce Lee under certain circumstances. AFP 

It seems Shannon was not appeased, however, as she reportedly then went and complained directly to China’s National Film Administration, asking it to block the film’s release in the country and demand the director re-cut the film to change the depiction of her father.

While it was widely reported that the film's Chinese backers, Bona Film Group, was "frantically working with Tarantino" to alter the film, later reports show the Pulp Fiction director is refusing to re-edit his new work to suit the market.

This isn't the first time Tarantino has been asked to alter his work to suit cinema-goers in China

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is distributed by Sony Pictures, but Tarantino has any final-cut rights included in his contract, so any alterations made to the movie have to meet his approval. As there has been no official confirmation on why the film's release in China was cancelled, Tarantino has no plans to re-cut the story.

This isn't the first time Tarantino has been asked to alter his work to suit cinema-goers in China. In 2013 it was announced that Django Unchained had undergone minor retouches, such as reining in the level of gore. This included "tuning the blood to a darker colour, or lowering the height of the splatter of blood". Despite the changes, the film flopped in the China market, making $2.7 million (Dh9.9m) at the box office as it raked in $425.4 million globally.