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Christian Bale and Zhang Yimou are just beginning, professionally

Christian Bale will follow The Dark Knight Rises with a starring role in Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s big-budget epic Nanjing Heroes, which dramatizes the events of the 1937 Nanking Massacre. Bale will play an American priest who helps save a number of refugees after Japanese troops capture what was then the nation’s capital and set about murdering soldiers and civilians and raping thousands of women. It’s a tragic episode in Chinese history that’s been the subject of several domestic and foreign films of late, including Lu Chuan’s City Of Life And Death and Florian Gallenberger’s John Rabe, which celebrated the German businessman and Nazi leader—sometimes called the “Oskar Schindler of China”—who saved thousands of Chinese by using his influence with Japan’s military. Rabe is, of course, a central figure in Yimou’s story as well, so there’s potential for another internationally recognized star to join the film.

When asked if casting was an attempt to get more U.S. attention for Nanjing Heroes, and thereby consolidate China’s creeping hold on the American film industry, Zhang Yimou responded, “It's the overall strategy for Chinese cinema to approach the world and broaden its influence but casting Bale was a coincidence because the script happened to have an English-speaking part in the lead.” To which Bale responded, “Oh, good for Yimooooooou.” (Sorry, but it’s almost Christmas, and this story is about Nazis and rape. Just trying to lighten the mood.) 

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