Acclaimed Chinese director Chen Kaige has started shooting The Promise (Wu Ji), a big-budget fantasy epic that brings together some of Asia's top talent both in front of and behind the camera.

Heading the cast of the film - which cranked up at the Beijing Film Studio on Monday - is one of Hong Kong's hottest actresses, Cecilia Cheung, along with Korean actor Jang Dong-Kun (The Coast Guard) and Japan's Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai). Hong Kong idol Nicholas Tse and award-winning mainland actor Liu Ye are also expected to star.

Among the film's top-flight crew are Hong Kong DoP Peter Pau and art director Tim Yip - both of whom won Oscars for their work on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The action choreographer is Dion Lam, whose credits include Spider-Man 2 and The Matrix Revolutions.

The film's investors include China Film Group, China's Century Hero Film Investment Co and US-based production and sales outfit Moonstone Entertainment. Chen is also producing along with his wife Chen Hong, Moonstone CEO Etchie Stroh and China Film vice chairman Han Sanping. Moonstone, which sold Chen's last film Together, is handling international sales.

Co-scripted by Chen and Zhang Tan, the film is set in a fantasy historical world and revolves around a princess - who makes a promise that seals her destiny at an early age - a general and a slave. Production is scheduled to continue for six months at Beijing Film Studio, Hengdian TV & Movie City near Shanghai and picturesque Yunnan Province. The film also involves major special effects work which should take another 10 months to complete.

The scale of the film reflects the growing confidence of the Chinese film industry to mount commercial blockbusters following the success of Hero, directed by Chen's former classmate at the Beijing Film Academy, Zhang Yimou. Zhang is currently in post-production on a second martial arts film - House Of Flying Daggers - which also assembles talent from around the region.