Mike Moh plays Bruce Lee in Quentin Tarantino new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

By Eric Todisco
July 26, 2019 02:54 PM
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Capital Pictures

Quentin Tarantino‘s latest film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood famously centers around the tragic murder of Sharon Tate, which has many people questioning how martial arts legend Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh) factors into the plot.

Mike Moh‘s performance as the martial arts legend was first glimpsed at in the trailer for the film, which also gave first looks at Margot Robbie’s turn as Tate, who was killed by the followers of Charles Manson on the night of Aug. 8, 1969 at the age of 26. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt round out the cast, playing fictional characters Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, respectively.

As fans of the ’60s era in which the film takes place recall, Lee was a suspect in Tate’s murder, due to Tate’s husband, film director Roman Polanski.

On an episode of last summer’s podcast Shoot This Now, author of “Bruce Lee: A Life” Matthew Polly divulged the backstory of why Polanski suspected Lee of committing the crime.

Polly revealed that Lee and Tate first met in 1965, when her Hollywood hairstylist boyfriend at the time, Jay Sebring, helped Lee break into acting. After Tate broke up with Sebring and began dating Polanski, she continued her friendship with Lee. Polly claims Lee was even paid $11,000 to give Tate martial arts training for her 1968 film, The Wrecking Crew.

Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski
Joe Bangay/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty

Over the next few years, Lee formed a close friendship with Tate and Polanski, who married in 1968. On the podcast, Polly said that Polanski took Lee to his ski chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, where Lee bought the infamous yellow suit he went on to wear to fight Kareem Abdul Jabbar in Game of Death, the movie he died while filming in 1973.

Tate was eight months pregnant when she was brutally murdered in her home, along with ex-boyfriend Sebring and three others. Although the murderers were eventually discovered to be followers of Manson, Polanski initially believed that Lee was responsible for the murder of his wife and unborn baby, as Polly explains in both his book and the podcast.

“The police found at the crime scene hormed-rimmed glasses they believed belong to the killers, and Polanski was convinced it was one of his friends,” Polly explains on the podcast. “He was a student of Bruce Lee, and after the murder they met many times and one day during a lesson Bruce said he lost his glasses, and at that moment Polanski thought it could be Bruce Lee.”

“Bruce Lee was an outsider and didn’t fit in, and had the physical capabilities to take on several people,” Polly added.

However, once Polanski went with Lee to get new glasses, Polanski discovered Lee’s prescription was different than the glasses at the crime scene, leading the director to change his mind. While Polanski had a big “sigh of relief,” as Polly described, he never told Lee of his initial suspicions.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is now playing in theaters.