BEIJING: Acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou has chosen Batman star Christian Bale to star as a heroic priest in his next film about the infamous Nanjing massacre by Japanese forces.
The filmmaker -- known for martial arts blockbuster "Hero" and for directing the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics -- made the announcement at a press conference in the Chinese capital on Wednesday.
"I was impressed with Bale´s versatility and professionalism‚" Zhang said‚ according to the China Daily.
"I believe‚ by his performance‚ the film will reach a global audience who will learn more about what happened that year in China."
In late 1937‚ Nanjing -- then the country´s capital -- fell to the Japanese army. China says 300‚000 people were killed in an orgy of murder‚ rape and destruction‚ and the incident has haunted Sino-Japanese relations.
Some conservative historians in Japan dispute the number killed.
Bale‚ the 36-year-old Welsh-born star of "The Dark Knight" and "Batman Begins"‚ first earned international attention at the age of 13 for his role in Steven Spielberg´s World War II epic "Empire of the Sun"‚ set in Shanghai.
In Zhang´s film‚ tentatively titled "Nanjing Heroes" and based on a novel by Yan Geling‚ Bale will play an American priest who shelters 13 prostitutes and female students at a Nanjing church as Japanese troops pillage the city.
The plot echoes the real-life story of John Magee‚ a Christian missionary who helped rescue thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians‚ and recorded some of the atrocities on film.
Producer Zhang Weiping would not reveal how much Bale was being paid to star in the film‚ which has a production budget of 600 million yuan (90 million dollars).
Zhang also did not reveal the name of Bale´s female co-star‚ but said she spoke fluent English and would appear with Bale in several scenes.
The Chinese movie industry is protected by a system that only allows around 20 foreign films to be screened a year‚ allowing homegrown directors to create Hollywood-style blockbusters without the threat of major overseas competition.
So far‚ the highest-grossing domestic production is "Aftershock"‚ about survivors of the Tangshan earthquake which killed at least 240‚000 people in 1976. The film raked in 600 million yuan this year‚ according to state media.
Officials predict box office receipts in China will reach 10 billion yuan for all of 2010‚ compared to less than one billion yuan in 2003.