‘Batman’ star Christian Bale was involved in a scuffle and ensuing car chase during an unsuccessful attempt to visit detained activist Chen Guangcheng on Thursday. The incident was captured by the CNN crew which accompanied him:
“What I really wanted to do was to meet the man, shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is,” Bale said ….
“I’m not brave doing this,” Bale emphasized. “The local people who are standing up to the authorities, who are visiting Chen and his family and getting beaten or detained, I want to support them.”
As our car sped toward Beijing in the dark, Bale wondered aloud if he would never be allowed back — a prospect he is prepared to accept — even as “The Flowers of War” became China’s official entry into next year’s Academy Awards.
“Really, what else can I do to help Chen?” he kept asking as the clock struck midnight, with his latest movie — partially funded by the state — about to open nationwide in China.
Bale’s trip took place amid existing controversy over the new film, whose future in China may now be in question. Although its treatment of the Rape of Nanking is reportedly softened somewhat by translation—its “日本鬼子” (Japanese devils) are simply “Japanese” in English, according to Newsweek’s Isaac Stone Fish—‘The Flowers of War’ has been widely attacked as a crude propaganda piece. From Jonathan Watts and Justin McCurry in The Guardian:
Released just days after the anniversary of the killings, the film – directed by Zhang Yimou – looks set to stir up nationalist passions, both over the country’s historical grievances and its modern cultural ambitions ….
“People will always go to see a film by Zhang Yimou, but we no longer have high expectations,” said film critic Taotao.
Flowers of War – adapted from a novel by Geling Yan – seems unlikely to reverse that trend. Overseas reviewers have panned the film for what they see as a crude mix of commercial vulgarity and political propaganda.
“It’s something you’d think only the crassest of Hollywood producers would come up with – injecting sex appeal into an event as ghastly at the Nanjing massacre,” writes Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. Chinese critics say the plot is weak and Bale’s performance unconvincing.
Zhang has previously been accused of apologism for China’s authoritarian rule in 2002’s ‘Hero’, and of nationalist triumphalism in the 2008 Olympic opening ceremony.
At The New Yorker, Evan Osnos described the film’s critical reception, and reported Bale’s reactions to the controversy:
Early responses have been consistent. The Wall Street Journal said that it portrays the “Japanese as monochrome monsters.” At one point, it noted, “a Japanese soldier chasing the Chinese schoolgirls through the cathedral shouts: ‘Lieutenant come up here, we’ve got virgins!’” “Hokum” says the Hollywood Reporter. The AFP calls it “the latest in a string of films and TV series from China promoting national unity against an evil Japan.”
Bale, who is fresh off an Oscar for “The Fighter,” is one of the first big Hollywood stars to anchor a Chinese film, and he ambled into a bit of a P.R. buzzsaw this week when he arrived in Beijing for a press junket. He told reporters that he knew little of the history before starting work on the picture, and, when asked on the red carpet about whether the film was over the top, he blinked—“I haven’t ever considered that question before”—and conceded that he did not quite know what he was in for: “It’s fascinating, as, a newcomer. I’ve learned an awful lot hearing about how the movie has to be approved before it can be released.” As the question kept coming up, he aimed for a lighter note—“It’s far more a movie about human beings and the nature of human beings’ responses to crisis”—before deciding on umbrage as the right reaction to questions about possible propaganda purposes: “That would be a bit of a knee jerk reaction,” he said. “If anybody had that response, I don’t think they’re looking closely enough at the movie.”
See more on Chen Guangcheng, Zhang Yimou, and the new film’s global aspirations via CDT.