Zhang Yimou has emerged as one of the preeminent filmmakers in China’s burgeoning blockbuster film industry, having produced some of the largest scale and highest grossing films the country has yet generated. He’s up to that same trick again as his upcoming Nanjing Heroes comes together with a huge budget and a subject matter that is very near and dear to its home country’s heart. Yimou is enlisting the help of Christian Bale to help tell this important national story though, as the film will explore some of the brave and diverse people that helped save lives during a Japanese attack on the people of China.

Bale impressed the director with his dedication to role research and method acting, and Yimou has cast him as an American priest who was instrumental in saving a ton of Chinese lives during the attack. The production gets underway in January, so Bale seems to be slipping this one in before he dons the cape and cowl once again. Naturally Bale will bring a heightened level of attention to the film across the world, and in America especially. Yimou couldn’t have timed his announcement better, as Bale is particularly hot right now from all of his The Fighter acclaim (which Nick and I will be adding to with a Tag-Team Fighter review very soon). When The Dark Knight Rises gears up for production later next year he’ll be in the spotlight all over again, so Yimou should see a pretty strong ROI from this particular bit of casting.

Hero alone did a lot to shift the perception of Chinese cinema in the early 2000s, or at least draw a new level of attention to it here in America- it was a legitimate box office success here, and an outright smash hit in its home country. We’ve seen increasingly huge budgets thrown around across the sea, as Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong investors all mix up together, constantly pushing for more Hollywood-style productions. This particular film will draw in Hollywood effects company Dark Side FX (Saving Private Ryan, Rambo, The Dark Knight), and will be shot in a hybrid of English and Mandarin. All of this should serve to break down more walls between China and the rest of the filmmaking, film-watching world and recapture some of the cross-cultural magic that Yimou managed a few years ago.

As for Bale, I have to hand it to him- he’s always finding way to get involved in uniquely challenging projects, and a film shot primarily in Mandarin is definitely that (I’m sure his role is mostly English-speaking though). As long as there’s no Zwickian schmaltz in the inclusion of an American hero (which I hope wouldn’t be a problem with a natively Chinese script/production), Bale’s presence could provide American audiences with an anchor in an otherwise purely Chinese film. It’s a savvy move from an industry that has found it difficult convincing American and European audiences to overcome the cultural divides and make room for the Chinese at the worldwide film table.

Source | THR