Start-up production and financing outfit Cinema Popular is unveiling its debut production today at Filmart - $23m historical epic Bodyguards And Assassins - to be directed by Teddy Chen.

The film, which starts shooting in early April, features a host of Hong Kong and Chinese stars including Donnie Yen, Leon Lai, Nicholas Tse and Chinese actor Wang Xueqi (Forever Enthralled).

The long-gestating project, which Chen has been developing for ten years, revolves around an assassination attempt on the founder of modern China, Sun Yat-sen. The production team has constructed elaborate sets at studios outside Shanghai, including a recreation of 1905 Hong Kong.

In addition to Cinema Popular, the film is backed by China Film Group and Shanghai Media Group, amongst other investors. The high-profile ensemble cast also includes Hu Jun, Tong Leung Ka-fai, Eric Tsang, Simon Yam, Fan Bing-bing, Wang Po-chieh and Zhou Yun.

Launched in February, Cinema Popular is a joint venture between Peter Ho-sun Chan and Chinese filmmaker Huang Jianxin’s We Pictures and Beijing-based Polybona.

Chan has created Cinema Popular in response to the rapid box office growth in mainland China. The company, which is investing around $73m in 15 films over three years, is overhauling the financing model for Hong Kong-China co-productions.

‘A few years ago, China would contribute 25% of the budget and recoup around 30-40%,’ explains Chan. ‘But in the present climate, China is accounting for around 60-70% of the recoupment. Therefore we should be raising a bigger proportion of the budget from mainland China.’