Christian Bale, low-profile, until he’s not. Just ask Zhang Yimou.


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‘The Flowers of War’ star Christian Bale caused a significant media kerfuffle with the Chinese government this month when he attempted to visit a Chinese human rights activist. The Foreign Ministry scolded him and said he should be ‘embarrassed,’ but so far director Zhang Yimou has been mum on the incident.

Zhang had nothing but praise for the Welsh-born actor during an interview this summer on the set of ‘Flowers,’ which stars Bale as an unlikely American hero during the 1937 Japanese raid of Nanjing, China.


‘He has left a great impression on our team, such that we cannot stop praising him,’ Zhang told The Times’ David Pierson in June while on location in Lishui County, southeast of Nanjing. ‘There are many things we Chinese need to learn from him: He is professional, down to earth, and he keeps a low profile.’

Zhang, the filmmaker behind Chinese classics such as ‘Hero’ and ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ and mastermind of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games, said that Bale also showed a great love for children while at work. ‘He loves children, and there are many children here on the set,’ Zhang said. ‘He simply couldn’t act with children when they were crying.’

You can read about it all in the transcript below. Or watch the video above, with Zhang speaking in Mandarin (and with English interpretation provided by Nicole Liu of The Times’ Beijing bureau).

The film, China’s submission for the foreign-language Oscar this year, opened Dec. 23.

Did you set out in the beginning to make a movie that would be an international hit? Is your decision to work with Christian Bale sort of indicative of that?

In fact, every story has its own structure, and it’s not in anyone’s hands to enlarge or reduce it. The original story and the adapted screenplay have a kind of international structure, which is why we thought of inviting a very good actor [from American films] to make the production of the film more on an international standard.

This is the initial position of the script. So this film does point to that direction. I really wish that this film will be popular and welcomed in the international market. I personally advocate that a movie has to be fun to watch, which means ordinary audiences will be able to understand and accept it. This is very important. So this film is made in a distinctive way -- the way I prefer, a very visual way. I believe this will attract ordinary audiences. Such an international theme, story and structure will be very fresh. In fact I think the most important thing about a movie is the strength of humanity in it and the story of the people and emotions, no matter how big or small the budget is, or whether the structure is international or domestic. Humanity and emotions are international; we all can be touched by them. Without them, it is useless to create a big structure.


Working with Christian Bale, is there something that stands out, something culturally different about the way he approaches work that you think people from the industry here in China may learn from?

First of all, he is a brilliant actor. He is beyond my expectations in many ways.

He has left a great impression on our team, such that we cannot stop praising him. There are many things we Chinese need to learn from him: He is professional, down to earth, and he keeps a low profile.

He has given lots of new perspectives to this role; he has done lots of work for the character. It was simply a role in the script, but he made it very vivid; he added interesting touches to it. He did a lot of homework. ... He shows strong feelings toward this story, the team and this collaboration.

He loves children, and there are many children here on the set. He simply couldn’t act with children when they were crying.

When he left, I told him, your style of work has changed Chinese people’s views on Hollywood movie stars. We thought Hollywood stars would have many assistants and be difficult to deal with.

Some famous directors in the U.S., like Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, run their own production companies, as do you. How much has that changed your work, and do you see more Chinese directors going in this direction?


I don’t know too much about it, and I think each director is different. Spielberg is my friend, and he has been very supportive this time. I went to Spielberg’s house before I went to see Christian. Spielberg has given me lots of advice.

I think all directors will choose the way to work that is most comfortable for them, so I don’t think there is a set rule [regarding having one’s own production company].

Check back on 24 Frames for more excerpts from the interview.


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-- Scott Sandell

Video: Zhang Yimou on the set of ‘The Flowers of War.’ Credit: Benjamin Haas