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Academy Award winner Christian Bale found himself in a shoving match with local police in a village near Beijing, as The Dark Knight star attempted to visit a Chinese activist that he regards as an “inspiration.”
Bale had invited CNN correspondent Stan Grant and a cameraman to join him on a visit to Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist living under house arrest after being released from prison in 2010. Chen was sentenced to four years in prison for damaging property and disrupting traffic during a protest, although supporters say his legal work on behalf of what Chen said are victim’s of China’s one-child policy, including forced abortions and sterilizations, led to his prosecution.
“Why can’t I visit this free man?” Bale asked repeatedly, with Grant translating. Local police, many dressed in plainclothes, pushed the group back as they approached Chen’s village, punched and damaged a camera Bale was holding, and threw rocks at their car.
“What I really wanted to do was to meet [Chen], shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is,” Bale told CNN.
Bale is promoting The Flowers of War, director Zhang Yimou‘s $100 million Nanjing Massacre epic, which opens wide in China Friday. Bale plays an American ne’er-do-well who finds himself in the middle of the 1937 Japanese invasion of Nanjing, then China’s capital, in which thousands of Chinese civilians were murdered and raped.
The Welsh actor’s protest puts China in an awkward position. Flowers is China’s official nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Standard operating procedure as a foreign political activist would see Bale denied future visas for China. However, if Flowers were to be nominated, or win, an Academy Award, China would have its first non-music Academy Award but with a star that cannot visit the country.
The situation is also awkward for director Zhang, who spent most of his early career seeing his films banned by the government despite international acclaim. However, Zhang is now the Chinese government’s favorite director, having overseen the production of the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Flowers is already a huge gamble for Zhang, as the most expensive Chinese domestic film made to date. Flowers’ budget is approximately the same as the total gross for Feng Xiaogang‘s Aftershock, China’s number two all-time domestic box office production.
Bale and Zhang appeared at a press conference on Dec. 11 for the film’s world premiere in Beijing. The two professed admiration for each other and repeated, as they had in a Hollywood Reporter cover story, that Steven Spielberg had encouraged the two to work together. No immediate comment was available from Zhang.
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