AFP (February 13th, 2012)

BALE SAYS CHINA RIGHTS ROW DID NOT SOUR FILM EXPERIENCE

BERLIN — Oscar-winning actor Christian Bale said Monday a dispute with Chinese authorities after he tried to visit a detained dissident did not sour his experience making the homegrown blockbuster “The Flowers of War”.

The “Dark Knight” star told AFP at the Berlin film festival that he did not feel conflicted about promoting the Chinese picture after he was stopped in December from meeting Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer-dissident being held under house arrest.

China’s foreign ministry accused Bale of “fabricating news” after he made international headlines when he was rebuffed on the outskirts of Chen’s village in eastern China.

Asked by reporters if China was embarrassed by Bale’s actions, a foreign ministry spokesman said: “I think it is the relevant actor who should feel embarrassed instead of the Chinese side,” and suggested he would not be allowed back in the country.

When asked whether the brusque treatment had tarnished his memories of working in China or hopes to return, Bale said: “Not in that respect. Of course I do hope to (visit Chen) and that is something I’m very interested in.”

But he said he aimed to keep the political dispute “separate…in terms of respect for my fellow film-makers”.

“I feel like there is great correlation in what the story of the movie is telling about the individual spirit, of becoming stronger against opposing forces — I see a great resonance in what Chen Guangcheng is attempting to do and I admire that greatly,” he added.

Bale, who has described Chen as a personal “inspiration”, invited a CNN crew to accompany him on an eight-hour drive from Beijing to the village in Linyi district, where he was stopped by guards.

“Why can I not visit this free man?” Bale asked repeatedly, as the guards tried to snatch a camera from the star and drag him away.

Chen, who exposed abuses in the “one-child” population control policy, has been under house arrest since September 2010 when he completed a prison term of more than four years.

“The Flowers of War” by cinema veteran Zhang Yimou, set during the Nanjing massacre in which Japanese troops killed tens of thousands of Chinese civilians in 1937-38, has been a major hit in China since it opened in December.

It was also China’s submission for the best foreign-language film Oscar although it failed to make the final cut.

Bale, who won an Academy Award for “The Fighter” and got his start as a child actor in Steven Spielberg’s China-based “Empire of the Sun”, plays an American caught up in the drama as he tried to protect schoolgirls living in a convent.

When a group of prostitutes seek shelter there as well, they are called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the girls against marauding Japanese troops.

“I had a fantastic time in China with my fellow film-makers, just an extraordinary level of talent,” Bale said. “I would have been very envious if anybody else had taken the part.”

The film screened out of competition at the Berlin film festival, which runs until Sunday.

By Deborah Cole.