Zhang, Bale blossom together on "Flowers of War"

Thu Dec 22, 2011 8:34am EST
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By Jordan Riefe

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In 100 years of Chinese film, "The Flowers of War" is the first major title to feature a western movie star. It earned a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign language film, and is China's entry for Oscars.

Budgeted at $100 million and paid for by the Chinese government, "Flowers of War" stars Oscar-winner Christian Bale as John Miller, an opportunist mortician on the run in 1937 as the Japanese are invading the province of Nanking, now known as Nanjing. The Japanese occupation led to the deaths of thousands of Chinese citizens and came to be known by some as the Rape of Nanking or the Nanjing Massacre.

In the film, which has a limited U.S. release this week before opening nationwide in 2012, Bale's character must save a group of schoolgirls from the clutches of the Japanese. At the same time, he falls in love with a Chinese courtesan.

Bale and Chinese director Zhang Yimou, who communicated through an interpreter while making the film, talked with Reuters about overcoming cultural barriers and revisiting an infamous episode of China's past. (The interview took place before Bale's recent run-in with Chinese officials.)

Q: This is your first time working with a western film star. Did the collaboration meet or defy your expectations?

Zhang: "First, I'm amazed at how low key and humble Christian is. The stereotype that Chinese have of Hollywood actors is they probably have an entourage and assistants. So that's definitely changed how I viewed Hollywood actors. And also Christian didn't want to stay in a five star hotel either. He lived right above me, lived with everybody else, with the crew members. And another thing is Christian gave up his weekends to work with us because we work seven days a week."

Bale: "But this seven-day week schedule became something I quite enjoyed cause I liked the momentum. Yimou is top dog in his profession, and he genuinely seemed to have a great deal of humor and laughter on the set. I didn't always know what the laughter was about but I would laugh with them. I hope they're not all laughing at me! I felt surrounded by good friends and even if I didn't understand nuances of what was being discussed, I got the essence in the presence of people."

Q: Do you find that your shared experience in filmmaking was enough to communicate despite the language barrier?   Continued...