BEIJING — Thesp Christian Bale was assaulted Thursday by security guards as he tried to visit one of China’s best-known dissidents, the blind, “barefoot lawyer” Chen Guangcheng, who has been under house arrest since his release from prison last year.
The “Dark Knight” star was with a CNN crew when they were jostled by plainclothes security officials.
Footage showed Bale asking “Why can I not visit this man?” as guards tried to take away his camera.
Blinded by a fever in infancy and self-taught as a lawyer, Chen was jailed for drawing attention to forced sterilizations and abortions in his locality because of the One Child Policy.
Authorities have sealed off Chen’s village of Dongshigu and turned his home into a no-go area for activists. Foreign diplomats and journalists who have tried to visit him have been attacked by groups of hired thugs around the house.
Bale features in top helmer Zhang Yimou’s “The Flowers of War,” China’s most expensive pic ever and the country’s official submission for the foreign film category at this year’s Academy Awards. At a news conference at the weekend, Bale denied that “Flowers” was an anti-Japanese propaganda pic.
“It’s far more of a movie about human beings and the nature of human beings’ responses to crisis, and how that can reduce people to the most animalistic behavior, and also raise them up to the most honorable behavior,” he said.
“The Flowers of War,” which is largely funded with Chinese government money, has an undeniably nationalistic and anti-Japanese tone, and Zhang is regularly criticized by young filmmakers in China, who believe that the former rebel has become too cozy with the Communist establishment he used to criticize. This was underlined when he orchestrated the Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, and made films such as “Hero,” which were deeply pro-authoritarian in their tone.
It’s not the first time that Chen’s fate has popped up in Hollywood dispatches. In October, Relativity Media came under fire from human-rights groups for shooting comedy “21 and Over” in the city of Linyi, close to where he is being held.
The controversy comes as Hollywood companies are trying to forge closer links to the booming Chinese film biz, and shows that human-rights issues have not gone away, and can cause public relations headaches.