Christian Bale Roughed Up in Failed Attempt to Visit Blind Chinese Activist

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While in China this week on a publicity tour for the new film “Flowers of War,” Academy Award-winning actor Christian Bale attempted to visit Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal activist who is under house arrest with his family. Bale, who visited with a CNN crew, was punched and eventually turned away by plainclothes security guards. Dozens of activists and journalists who have attempted to visit Chen this year have received similar treatment, sometimes much rougher, on the roads to Chen’s village in eastern Shandong province. “”What I really wanted to do was to meet the man, shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is,” Bale told the network.

In “Flowers of War,” Bale portrays and American posing as a priest in war-torn 1930s China who tries to defend convent girls and courtesans from the invading Japanese army. The film, by director Zhang Yimou, has received some harsh reviews. The Hollywood Reporter called it “hokum,” and said, “It’s something you’d think only the crassest of Hollywood producers would come up with — injecting sex appeal into an event as ghastly at the Nanjing massacre.” One criticism is that it plays like ham-handed anti-Japanese propaganda, something that’s not uncommon in China but unlikely to win much support abroad. On a publicity tour of China this week, Bale rejected the criticism. “It’s a historical piece,” he said at a press event, according to Reuters. “I certainly never viewed it as that myself. I think that would be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. If anybody had that response I don’t think they’re looking closely enough at the movie.”

Bale’s actions on behalf of Chen have also drawn some complaints, including that he has drawn attention away from an ongoing standoff between residents and police in the village of Wukan in south China. But among Chinese activists, Bale’s attempted visit is receiving better reviews. “Thank you for your actions on behalf of Guangcheng,” tweeted Zeng Jingyan, a Beijing-based activist who has also spent long periods under house arrest. “On screen and off you are a true hero, attempting to bring hope and light to a place of darkness.”

Austin Ramzy is Beijing correspondent for TIME. Find him on Twitter at @austinramzy. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.