Hong Kong star directors Gordon Chan and Sammo Hung are to jointly replace Reggie Hudlin behind the camera on The Highbinders, a $35m sci-fi action adventure that breaks the international financing mould by being structured as a Hong Kong-Irish co-production.

Jackie Chan is attached to star in this English-language project, which may even bring in a UK partner as well in order to qualify for sale-and-leaseback tax-sheltered financing. Shooting is set to start July in British and Irish locations.

Hung, a veteran actor-director credited as being among the inventors of the Asian action horror genre, will serve as Highbinder's action director. Chan, an accomplished storyteller, will be first unit director.

The move to use local Hong Kong talent behind the camera is a significant change of strategy on the part of Emperor Multimedia Group, the outfit mounting this crunch project. But EMG founder Alfred Cheung believes that international buyers are now more open to Asian directors than they were even a few months ago.

Besides, no suitable English-language director could be found once Hudlin had quit over 'creative differences' because the threat of Hollywood talent strikes ensured that alternatives were frantically busy.

The decision to take advantage of both Irish and UK tax shelters also signals a strategic switch. 'We expect to use the UK as a base for a number of English-language remakes of some of my earlier pictures,' said Cheung. 'The UK is very dynamic and flexible and has a less-unionised mentality than the US. We'd like to build something like a smaller Working Title.'

Highbinders also marks the beginning of a new directing splurge by Gordon Chan, who had intended to focus exclusively on production for the next year, and lays the foundations for EMG's expansion into Europe. After Highbinders, Gordon Chan is lining up two other pictures. Swordbearer, which EMG bills as a 'Hong Kong take on the Arthurian legend,' and Sun Tzu, an epic project which has been a personal obsession of Chan's for many years

Chan said: 'Swordbearers will be a martial arts film with weapons. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was very beautiful, but there are other ways of directing sword movies. Sun Tzu will be a very big budget picture going into production in 2003 and shot in mainland China." It is based on the true tale of a thinker-warrior who lost his legs in battle but whose writings became known as The Philosophy Of War. That book was said to be an influential favourite of Michael Ovitz' during his days at the helm of the Creative Artists Agency.

Regarding Highbinders, Hung told Screen International: "I am looking forward to putting together some thrilling action scenes that will be very in tune with Jackie's character. We went to the same school. We ate together, we learned to fight together.' After his role on TV's Martial Law Hung says he is now very comfortable working in English.

Gordon Chan, a principal of EMG, told Screen: 'Sammo and I are very comfortable together. We worked together on Thunderbolt and when I was younger I used to write for him. As producer and director of Highbinders I know how to leave room for the action.'