Christian Bale is Batman. This is common knowledge, unless you haven’t seen a movie in the past five years. Then again, Christian Bale as Batman, with that slightly ridiculous voice he uses for the Dark Knight, is far from the most impressive performance of his career. He shines better in small roles, or co-starring alongside another big name actor, as he did in 2006’s fantastic The Prestige with Hugh Jackman, or this year’s The Fighter with Mark Wahlberg, which is earning him a fair amount of kudos from the critics.
Bale is a versatile actor, capable of going through insane levels of personal transformation for a role and always taking huge chances; well, today, this is a pretty big chance he’s taking, and it just might pay off.
Even though he’s finally been getting his share of well-deserved awards season buzz for his supporting role in The Fighter, Bale is far from through taking on big, ridiculously epic projects in the coming year. This includes The Dark Knight Rises and this new one he’s just signed up for, a war epic that’s going to be at least 60% presented in Chinese.
That’s right, Bale is going to play an American priest in Yimou Zhang’s Nanjing Heroes, the story of the 1937 invasion of the city of Nanjing, formerly a major center in Chinese culture, that was razed to the ground following an invasion and wide-scale massacre by Japanese troops. Bale’s character might be an allusion to John Rabe, a real-life German businessman who rescued more than 200,000 Chinese from certain death. Of course, Rabe was also a prominent member of the Nazi party, and thus used his influence to secure the rescue, so the filmmakers might be changing his character to an American priest to negate that unsavory bit of information.
However the story plays out, it’s impossible to deny that, while it’s certainly a leap for Bale, he’s in very safe hands with Yimou. As the writer/director of Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Yimou is an artistic virtuoso, who manages to creates stunning visual images while maintaining a sense of a cohesive storyline. He also created the under-seen Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, which was a moving and beautifully shot film that succeeded without needing epic battle sequences. And don't get me started on Raise the Red Lantern, just see it. If Yimou trusts Bale to complete his vision of a very dark period in Chinese history, then we can trust Bale, too.
This could be thrilling, no? Christian Bale, a beleaguered priest, championing the rights of an oppressed and frightened people? Expect this film (that has a budget hovering around $90 million) to spare no expense in creating the landscape that Yimou has in his head, and expect Bale to similarly spare no effort to support Yimou’s vision. If anything, it’ll be worth it to possibly hear Batman give an angry speech...in Chinese.