Applause Pictures, the ambitious start-up pan-Asian production company, has unveiled its first project, One Fine Spring Day, a co-production with Korea's Uno Films and Japan's Omega Projects, to be directed by Christmas In August director Hur Ji-Ho.

The drama, which has a budget of under $4m (HK$30m), is tentatively scheduled to start shooting in August. Japanese financier NDF and distributor Pony Canyon are also backing the film.

Applause, set up by Hong Kong directors Peter Chan and Teddy Chen and the former head of Panorama Entertainment Allan Fung, is also developing Thai film The Story Of Jan Dara, an adaptation of long-banned novel Jan Dara - Sex, Guilt and Retribution, written by Osana Plung Tum. After an auction involving more than ten other production outfits, rights to the book were acquired by Nonzee Nimibutr, director of hit Nang Nak. The period drama will start production in Thailand in August on a budget of $1m fully financed by Applause.

Chan hopes to begin preparations on his first Applause project later this summer. The director is currently working on an English-language remake of Hong Kong comedy He's A Woman, She's A Man, for New Line Cinema.

Meanwhile, Chen is developing $4.5m (HK$35m) Dragon Head, which will go into pre-production from February 2001. Chen will first complete his latest US film, the $30m Accidental Spy, featuring local superstar Jackie Chan.

"We will be looking for other projects from all over Asia here at the Hong Kong Asia Film Finance Forum (HAF). We are looking to produce, co-produce or syndicate the finance," said Chan.

While acknowledging that there is no unified Asian film industry, Applause aims to capitalise on the growing popularity of home-grown films such as Shiri, Ring and Christmas In August and their growing pan-Asian acceptance. "Asian films have the ability to walk out of the shadows of European and American-made pictures," said Chan.

It aims to do this by improving the international distribution links that the Hong Kong industry used to enjoy when in its heyday. "The pipeline is rusty, but we can polish it," said Chan. Applause will open offices throughout South East Asia to oversee distribution and will set up a sales operation to handle pictures in international markets. Mimicking Media Asia's network, Applause's Asian distribution will be conducted through a network of wholly-owned operations and local joint ventures with existing players.

Applause is backed by Star East, an investment firm set up by over 100 celebrities and local media figures. Its current investments include ISP, start-ups and leisure web-sites.

The way the company is structured is intended to provide two key advantages: the power to greenlight without a "studio" looking over our shoulder; and second, to control the fate of our pictures and hold onto equity," said Chan. "The chief criteria for a project is that the participants have a good track record. We don't want to over-develop."