BEIJING (Hollywood Reporter) - Christian Bale, currently winning raves for his supporting role in "The Fighter," will star in "Nanjing Heroes," a Chinese film about the Nanjing Massacre, its director said on Wednesday.
Director Zhang Yimou's $90 million budget is roughly equal to that of John Woo's two-part period epic "Red Cliff," which was billed as the most expensive ever Asian-financed movie.
The Nanjing Massacre, when Japanese troops killed thousands of Chinese citizens in what was then the nation's capital in 1937, has been the subject of several recent Chinese and co-produced films. Bale will play an American priest called John who helps a great number of Chinese escape certain death.
"I met Christian in America and was impressed with his serious book research for the role," Zhang said after playing a five-minute video mash up of clips from Bale's Hollywood films, few of which have ever played theatrically in China.
The film will be shot about 40% in English and the rest in Mandarin Chinese, sources close to the project told The Hollywood Reporter. Zhang made no other cast or crew announcements.
Previously, Sony Pictures Classics distributed Zhang's films in the United States, but Sony does not appear to be involved at this time.
Zhang's highest-grossing film ever was 2002 period war film "Hero" starring Jet Li, which took in almost $54 million in the U.S. His new film comes at a time when China's movie business is booming at home and dominant in parts of Asia, but receives little attention elsewhere.
Asked if casting Bale was a move to raise Chinese cinema's profile in the U.S. market -- still 10 times bigger than China's box office -- Zhang said "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."
Zhang will begin shooting the film on January 10 in a Republican Era (1911-1949) replica church built near Nanjing.