Oscar-winning actor Christian Bale has suffered a nasty brush with Chinese guards who forcibly blocked him and a CNN crew from visiting a blind lawyer-dissident being held under house arrest.
Bale, who is in China to promote his upcoming Nanjing Massacre film "The Flowers of War", was stopped on the outskirts of the village in eastern China where the activist Chen Guangcheng is being detained.
Bale, who describes Chen as a personal "inspiration", invited a CNN crew to accompany him on the eight-hour drive from Beijing to the village in Linyi district.
The same guards in green military-style overcoats who attacked the CNN crew during a February visit to the village were again present, and aimed punches at Bale and the crew, the network's video footage showed.
"Why can I not visit this free man?" Bale asked repeatedly, as the guards tried to snatch a camera from the star of "The Dark Knight" and "The Fighter" and to drag him away.
The actor and CNN crew returned to their van but were then chased down roads by the guards in another vehicle for 40 minutes, resulting in damage to the van, CNN reported.
"I'm not being brave doing this," said Bale.
"The local people who are standing up to the authorities, who are visiting Chen and his family and getting beaten up for it... I want to support what they're doing," he said.
Activists organised through the Internet have been flocking to Chen's village as part of an online campaign to free the 40-year-old self-taught lawyer and rights campaigner, who has been blind since childhood.
But campaigners say thugs have beaten up many of those who were able to get close to the home of the lawyer, who has been under house arrest since he completed a four-year jail sentence last year.
Chen is known for revealing forced sterilisations and late-term abortions affecting thousands of women in the eastern province of Shandong as part of measures to enforce China's population control policy.
His cause has been championed in the West, including in a speech by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month.
Bale said he had been moved by Chen's story while in China to film "The Flowers of War" about the Nanjing Massacre, when Japanese troops killed tens of thousands of Chinese civilians during 1937-38.
The British actor plays an American drifter who becomes the unwitting protector of a group of Chinese schoolgirls and prostitutes trying to escape the Japanese army's brutal sacking of China's wartime capital.
The parallels of injustice played on his mind and motivated his desire to see Chen, Bale told CNN.
"This doesn't come naturally to me, this is not what I actually enjoy -- it isn't about me," he said during the long drive from Beijing to the activist's village.
"But this was just a situation that said I can't look the other way."
Bale's longtime publicist Jennifer Allen said: "His going to this village to see this man was a totally personal decision. He'd been following the story and was moved by it and wanted to do whatever he could."