In mid September in China's south-east coastal city Xiamen, Ning Hao was shooting his fourth feature, Silver Medalist. More than 50 Chinese reporters visited the set for interviews - just a year ago the 30-year-old film-maker could not have imagined his new film would attract so much attention.
The reason for the huge interest is the success of Ning's previous film, Crazy Stone, in China. A black comedy starring the virtually unknown Huang Bo, Crazy Stone is a milestone in recent Chinese film and a key success story for Warner China Film.
In early 2006, having made two co-production films (The Painted Veil and Jade Warrior), Warner China Film picked up Crazy Stone from production company Hong Kong Focus Films. The $500,000 movie was intended for a 30-print release but later expanded to 100, following demand from local cinemas. The total box office reached more than $3m. And Ning signed to US talent agency CAA.
China's sixth-generation director and Cannes winner Wang Xiaoshuai praised Ning for blazing a trail for Chinese-style commercial films. "Many film-makers, including me, are not able to do that," says Wang.
China Film Association held a seminar discussing the Crazy Stone phenomenon, and influential critic Shan Xinyu described the film as setting up a new model for Chinese genre films.
Crazy Stone was also popular in other Asian territories, having been sold to Malaysia (Golden Screen Cinemas), Singapore (TGV), Korea (CJ), Japan (IMX) and Thailand (Sahamongkol). Hong Kong Intercontinental acquired home-entertainment rights.
Silver Medalist is another black comedy again starring Huang, who is now a big star in Asia. He plays an ambitious bicycle racer whose road to victory is blocked by a profiteering manager, two bumbling thieves and a group of Taiwanese gangsters.
The $2.6m film wrapped this autumn and will be released in mainland China in the first half of 2008. Warner China Film has international rights.
Crazy Stone also triggered a spate of low-budget comedies in China. Among the several follow-ups, the notable successes were Big Movie, a parody of martial-arts epics, and Call For Love, about a man encountering 12 women of different personalities during his marriage crisis. Both were made for less than $400,000.
Buoyed by the strong performance of Crazy Stone, Warner China Film - in a new development for the Chinese film industry - signed a first-look deal with Ning in May. Silver Medalist is the first project in a three-film deal.
"I don't think I'm making another Crazy Stone movie. I'm just telling another story that may hopefully work," says Ning.