Batman, or rather his flesh and blood alter-ego actor Christian Bale, has met his match in China.
The “Dark Knight Rises” actor was roughed up by Chinese security guards when he attempted to visit a prominent detained activist with a CNN camera crew in tow.
Bale was trying to visit the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who has been under house arrest for the past 15 months in his village of Dongshigu in the eastern Chinese proving of Shandong.
CNN captured the entire altercation and released the footage on its website on Thursday.
“Why can I not visit this man?” Bale asked several security officers as he was pushed and jostled.
Bale is in China to promote the Golden Globe-nominated Chinese film “The Flowers of War,” which opens this weekend in China. He apparently approached CNN independently to try and visit Chen after having followed the cable news channel’s coverage of the activist’s plight.
“You know, I’m not being brave doing this,” Bale told CNN as their van left the scene. “The local people who are standing up to the authorities and insisting on going to visit Chen and his family and getting beaten up for it, and my understanding, getting detained for it and everything. I want to support what they are doing.”
Whatever fallout there might be for Bale here in China, it would be pretty safe to assume that the government will not take it out on his new film. “The Flower of War” is directed by Zhang Yimou, one of China’s most famous filmmakers who also orchestrated the show-stopping opening ceremonies for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
In “Flowers” Bale plays an American drifter who poses as a priest to save the lives of a group of Chinese schoolgirls during Japan’s occupation of China before the Second World War. The film is set against the backdrop the infamous Rape of Nanjing (Nanking) massacres, where an estimated 200,000 Chinese civilians were killed by Japanese troops in a matter of weeks.
“Flowers” is the most expensive Chinese film ever made, and is China’s best shot at an Oscar nod in years. What effect, however, this incident might have on the release of Bale’s upcoming Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” next summer has yet to been seen. The Chinese government, who controls the Chinese body letting foreign films into China, is not one to easily forget an embarrassing international headline-grabbing scuffle, and Chinese filmgoers are increasing becoming an important market for Hollywood blockbusters.
There has been some criticism of Bale starring in ‘Flowers,’ as some see view it as merely a Chinese propaganda film. He was asked directly about this during a press conference in Beijing earlier this week.
“That would be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. If anybody had that response, I don’t think they’re looking closely enough at the movie,” Bale told the press.
Many are wondering now whether this visit, where CNN drove Bale on an eight hour journey from Beijing to Chen’s village, was a stunt to battle back that criticism.
Either way Bale has managed to cast new international attention on the blind activist’s situation.
In 2005 Chen Guangcheng angered local officials when he exposed a program in his village of forced abortions as part of China’s one-child policy. He was subsequently jailed for four years on charges of “blocking traffic” and formally release in September 2010. Despite completing his sentence, the local government has kept Chen, his wife and their daughter under unofficial house arrest ever since. In recent months, dozens of supporters have been blocked from visiting Chen; many of them were beaten by men in plain clothes.
Bale told CNN he was not expecting this outcome.
“What I really wanted to do is to shake the man’s hand and say, ‘thank you’ and tell him what an inspiration he is,” said Bale.
But as they say in Hollywood, for Chen, Bale and “The Flowers of War,” any publicity is good publicity.