CO-PRODUCED SUCCESS: A still from John Rabe, a 2009 German-Chinese biographic film backgrounded by the Nanjing Massacre (CNSPHOTO)
Christian Bale, the winner of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2011, is to star in Chinese movie The 13 Women of Nanjing, directed by Zhang Yimou.
Zhang's latest blockbuster tells the story of 13 Chinese women who serve as escorts to Japanese officers during the rape of Nanjing. Bale will play an American priest who puts his life on the line to help protect civilians from rampaging Japanese forces. Bale isn't the only Hollywood import involved in the big budget feature. The movie's special effects will be created by a team led by Joss Williams who, having worked for Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, specializes in war-related effects.
To attract some of Hollywood's top talents Zhang has lavished a budget of over $100 million on the film, more than equal to the combined total investment in his previous three movies, Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower.
"We spared no expense on this film and hired top international stars and teams to contribute to the movie in order to make a Chinese blockbuster, a movie that will be able to secure a global audience," said Zhang Weiping, the film's producer. "We know high box office returns will justify our investment," he said.
"I received the screenplay in early 2007. It told the story of 13 Chinese courtesans who tried their best to save several female students during Japan's occupation of Nanjing. Set against the background of the Nanjing Massacre, the screenplay is unique but, I think, still reflects the great spirit of the Chinese nation and international humanitarianism. I have been adapting the play since 2007. Because the lead role is for a foreigner, I was hoping to cast a Hollywood star in the role," said director Zhang Yimou.
Bale, the star of a long line of Hollywood hits including American Psycho, Terminator Salvation and, of course The Dark Knight seems like a perfect choice. The 37-year-old actor is no stranger to China, having worked in the country in 1987 when, as a 13-year-old, he starred in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun. Spielberg's epic was one of the first collaborations between the Chinese film industry and Hollywood.
"We assisted the Americans with some of the shooting, particularly scenes of Shanghai," said Ren Zhonglun, President of the Shanghai Film Group Corp. "Shanghai's Bund was closed for a month for the shooting and about 1,300 air conditioners were removed. It was unbelievable at that time," he said.
Twenty years after the Empire of the Sun, the Chinese film world has changed beyond recognition. Twenty years ago Chinese teams played a minor role supporting Hollywood crews operating in China, but today Chinese producers have started to play more important roles, co-producing movies with foreign teams.
Chinese producers now contribute ideas and screenplays for co-production. "In other words, Chinese producers are making more decisions in movie co-production," added Ren.
"In the past we offered mainly investment, labor and raw materials in terms of movie co-production. But now the screenplay, storyline and plot are created by both Chinese and foreign partners," said Zhang Xun, General Manager of China Film Co-Production Corp.
The number of co-produced Chinese films has been growing—about 60 movies are now made this way every year.
"This year we've seen a 30-percent increase over last year. Movies co-produced by Chinese and foreign companies are running in the fast lane," Zhang said.