Christian Bale has signed up to star in Zhang Yimou's 'Nanjing Heroes'.

The 'Fighter' actor will play a US priest named John, who helped a number of Chinese citizens escape death during the country's Nanjing massacre, when Japanese troops killed thousands in 1937.

Director Zhang revealed he chose Christian for the role because of his professionalism, saying: "I met Christian In America and was impressed with his serious book research for the role."

The $90.2 million movie will be filmed in English and Mandarin and Zhang defended his choice of Christian for the movie, saying he wasn't trying to cash in on the 'Batman Begins' star's high profile.

He explained: "It's the overall strategy for Chinese cinema to approach the world and broaden its influence but casting Bale was a coincidence because The Script happened to have an English-speaking part in the lead."

The script was written by Yan and Liu Heng, who wrote the novel upon which director Zhang's early hit 'Ju Dou' was based.

The Academy Award-nominated director will begin shooting 'Nanjing Heroes' on January 10 in a Republican Era (1911-1949) replica church built near Nanjing.