Quentin Tarantino's new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, out July 26, focuses mostly on fictional actor Rick Dalton and made up stuntman Cliff Booth, but the movie also features many real life Hollywood icons. One of them is a martial arts movie legend. The actor playing Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood bears a fairly strong resemblance to the legend, and he appears to have the martial arts chops to portray the actor convincingly. But where have you seen him before?
Bruce Lee is portrayed in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by actor Mike Moh. Moh, 35, had mostly worked in television, web series, and short films before landing this role in a big studio film. He played Triton in the ABC Marvel series Inhumans, and he portrayed the character of Steve Cho in nine episodes of the Fox drama Empire. But bringing the late Bruce Lee to the big screen is the actor's highest profile gig yet, and when Moh was cast, he wasn't even living in Los Angeles, per an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Instead, he flew in from his home in Wisconsin — not exactly known as a hotbed of the film industry — to read for the part of his hero, Lee.
"This is literally what I had been waiting for," Moh told THR's Mia Galuppo. "As a kid growing up in suburban Minnesota I was one of the only Asian kids, so I was the class clown and a big part of that was me wanting to fit in. Then I saw Bruce Lee and I was like, 'Wow, this guy can kick ass, the girls want him, he is super-strong and -confident.' I hadn’t seen someone like that before."
Like the real Lee, Moh is not just an actor — he's also a trained and accomplished martial artist. He holds a fifth-degree black belt in Taekwondo, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, and he operates his own martial arts studio in Waunakee, Wisconsin called Moh's Martial Arts. Lee, by comparison, trained mainly in Wing Chun-style Kung Fu and eventually founded his own form of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do. In order to prepare for the film, Moh trained in Jeet Kune Do with the film's stunt coordinator Zoë Bell and fight choreographer Robert Alonzo, according to THR, to prepare for his on-screen sparring match with Brad Pitt's character, Cliff Booth.
Moh also studied Lee's dialect in order to get the iconic actor's voice just right for the film, taking no chances on squandering his big opportunity. "Ever since (filming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) I have had an epic hangover, creatively," Moh told THR. "I don't think I will ever have a moment like that again — where I felt, for the very first time, like I belonged on the A-list."
Mike Moh may not yet be a household name, but his performance as the legendary Bruce Lee in Quentin Tarantino's new film is a pretty good start toward becoming one.