Oscar-winning actor Christian Bale was in Beijing on Monday promoting his new movie The Flowers of War that opens on Friday in China and a week later in the U.S. Directed by Zhang Yimou, the film is China's Academy Award entry for best foreign language film.

Based on a Chinese-language novel roughly translated as The 13 Women of Nanjing by contemporary writer Yan Geling, the movie is about 13 sex workers in Nanjing who volunteer to replace university students as escorts for invading Japanese soldiers.

The film tackles a familiar subject within China: Japan's occupation of China's southern city of Nanjing in 1937. According to The Associated Press, historians say the massacre resulted in the slaughter of at least 150,000 civilians and China puts the number killed at 300,000.

Bale plays John Miller, an American priest who attempts to rescue local prostitutes and young female students by sheltering them in the cathedral. He praised the talent of the actresses who play the young students in the movie.

Poor girls, they were always crying their eyes out, Bale told The Associated Press. When I first arrived, I felt: this is just not good. I don't like that -- the girls having to be upset for 10 hours a day. They were crying their eyes out for 10 hours a day, I don't know about you but for me it was exhausting -- it makes you ill.

But they were actually really good actresses because they could suddenly stop and kind of go 'hahaha, we can be like that' and I was so happy to see that.

Bale said in a statement at a post-sneak preview premiere press conference that he knew little about the history before starting work on the film and that the film is about more than Japan's past violence.

It's far more of a movie about human beings and the nature of human beings' responses to crisis and how that can reduce people to the most animalistic behavior and also raise them up to the most honorable behavior, Bale said.

Director Zhang told The Associated Press he wanted to show the brilliance of humanity in a circumstance of war through the dramatic story. The director's known for A Simple Noodle Story, an adaptation of the Coen brothers' 1984 movie Blood Simple, and Under the Hawthorn Tree, a love story set in China's Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and '70s.

I think as long as the story is moving people from all over the world will like it, Zhang said.