Actor Christian Bale was in China to promote his film The Flowers of War directed by Zhang Yimou. The movie is a big deal, partly funded by state-backed banks, and the most expensive Chinese film ever made. It debuted at a government building last week in Beijing, but yesterday, Bale and the Chinese government got a little less cozy: The actor decided to go visit Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer who's become a symbol of government oppression.
He's illegally under house arrest in his village, eight hours outside the capitol, where he was placed after representing a series of young women who were forced into abortions or sterilizations. (The actual charges on which he was convicted were something else, and widely considered trumped-up.) Government guards have attacked other visitors to Guangcheng, but maybe Bale thought, as a big-deal American actor taking a grand tour for his big-deal Chinese film, he'd be treated with kid gloves. Wrong. The Times:
The footage of Mr. Bale’s attempted visit is dramatic. In it, he is seen pleading with the men who guard Dongshigu’s entry points and then retreating as they push and punch him. “Why can I not visit this free man?” he asks repeatedly. The men, dressed in thick green winter coats respond with shouts of “Go away.” Even after they have retreated into their car, the group, which included a translator, was chased for 40 minutes by men in a gray van.
“What I really wanted to do was to meet the man, shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is,” Mr. Bale said.
In recent months, scores of Chinese activists have had similar experiences, although some have endured far more violence, sometimes at the hands of uniformed police who the victims had called for assistance.
Of course, where Bale's experience does differ from that of the average-joe activist is in the post-incident press coverage. The Bale scuffle brings a whole lot more attention to the case than an incident-free visit to the jailed lawyer. After all, you don't attack Batman without the American press getting upset. And maybe even the Academy: The Chinese government was hoping for its first Oscar for The Flowers of War. The Bale attack is sure to make its publicity campaign a much harder upscale slog.