Christian Bale to Star in Zhang Yimou's ‘Nanjing Heroes’

“The Fighter” star will play an American priest who helps hundreds of Chinese escape certain death

Oscar-nominated Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou ("Hero") has cast "The Fighter" star Christian Bale in "Nanjing Heroes," a big-budget look at the Nanjing Massacre, the director announced at a press conference on Wednesday.

The Nanjing Massacre refers to a 1937 tragedy that saw Japanese troops kill thousands of Chinese citizens. The incident has been the focus of several recent Chinese films, all of which have featured a German businessman named John Rabe who helped save hundreds of Chinese refugees.

While Bale won't play Rabe, he will play an American priest who helps hundreds of Chinese escape certain death.

Yan and Liu Heng wrote the script, 40% of which will be filmed in English, with the rest shot in Mandarin Chinese.

Zhang said that casting Bale wasn't a strategic effort to broaden the appeal of Chinese cinema, but rather a coincidence, as the script happened to have an English-speaking lead.

Zhang's longtime producer, Zhang Weiping, will produce through his New Picture Film Company.

Joss Williams and Martin Asbury's Dark Side FX will handle the visual effects, having worked on other Hollywood blockbusters including Bale's own "The Dark Knight."

Sony Pictures Classics has distributed Zhang's movies in the U.S., but the studio doesn't appear to be involved in "Nanjing Heroes," though Hong Kong-based EDKO Films will be involved in selling the film's international rights, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

"Nanjing Heroes" boasts a 600 million yuan ($90.2 million) budget, and production is scheduled to begin Jan. 10 in China.

Bale is represented by WME.