Kerpow! Batman tussles with guards in bid to visit activist

British actor Christian Bale manhandled at checkpoint during film promotion tour

Los Angeles

There was no Hollywood ending when Christian Bale got into a battered van, drove eight hours into the Chinese countryside, and boldly attempted to peer behind the country's version of the iron curtain.

Instead, the Batman star found himself pushed, roughed up and sent on his way by plainclothes policemen anxious to prevent him paying homage to a local human rights activist.

Bale, who is in China to promote his new film, The Flowers of War, had taken a CNN television crew to the home of Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer who has been under house arrest since his release from prison last year.

Video of the attempted morale-boosting visit shows Bale, through an interpreter, asking guards to let him on to the property. They decline, refusing to identify themselves or offer an explanation.

The Welsh-born actor responds by asking: "Why can't I visit this free man?" He gets no response, save for the odd shove. As they frogmarch him away, the burly security team sporadically attempt to grab cameras from his colleagues.

"All I really wanted to do was to shake the man's hand, and say thank you, and tell him what an inspiration he is," he complains during footage of his retreat.

The incident, which was widely shared on the internet yesterday, leaves the Chinese authorities with a tricky public relations problem. The Flowers of War, about the Rape of Nanking in 1937, is jointly financed by US producers and the state-owned Bank of China. It has been proudly promoted by the Chinese government. Filmed partly in English and partly in Chinese, it is the country's official entry for best Foreign Language Film at February's Oscars.

On paper, it is supposed to showcase the potentially lucrative nature of collaborations between the film industries of the two countries. By securing local funding, Hollywood studios can bypass laws which at present allow them to import just 20 overseas films a year into Chinese cinemas.

But even before this week's incident, controversy was already swirling around The Flowers of War. An adaptation of the novel The 13 Women of Nanjing by Yan Geling, it offers a condemnatory portrayal of the Japanese, and on the red carpet at the film's premiere, Bale was forced to grapple with questions about whether it represents pro-Chinese propaganda.

His decision to pay a visit to Mr Chen offers a rebuttal to those accusations – perhaps his intention. A blind former masseur and self-taught lawyer, Mr Chen has long advocated against forced abortions under China's one-child policy.

In 2006, Mr Chen was sentenced to four years in prison for disrupting traffic during a protest. Since his release, he has been confined to his home and prevented from receiving visitors.

Bale, an occasionally volatile former child star who struck fame in Empire of the Sun and won an Oscar last year for The Fighter, insisted he was "not being brave" by grappling with the authorities. "The local people who are trying to visit Chen, and being beaten up and detained for it, you know, I want to support what they're doing. It doesn't come naturally to me, but this was just a situation when I said I can't look the other way."

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