Columbia Pictures FilmProduction Asia (CPFPA) has announced that it is backing the next film fromHong Kong megastar Stephen Chow, an action comedy tentatively titled Kung FuHustle, which is scheduled to startshooting in China on June 27.

One of Asia's hottest stars,Chow has directed and acted in a string of hits including Shaolin Soccer, the highest grossing local film of all time in HongKong, The King Of Comedy (1999)and The God Of Cookery (1996).Miramax has worldwide rights to all three films (excluding a few Asianterritories) and plans to release Shaolin Soccer in the US later this year.

Chow has scripted and willproduce, direct and star in Kung Fu Hustle which is set in Canton, China in the 1940s. The story revolves around ahapless wanna-be gangster who aspires to become a member of the notorious "AxeGang". Other characters include an obnoxious landlady and her apparently frailhusband who exhibit extraordinary powers in defending their turf.

The film is being producedby Chow's Hong Kong-based production outfit The Star Overseas in associationwith mainland China co-production partners - China Film Group's FourthProduction Company and Huayi Brothers & Taihe Film Investment Co. HuayiBrothers will distribute in China while Columbia TriStar will handledistribution in the rest of the world.

Columbia's long-expectedannouncement is a welcome boost to China's production sector which has beenhard hit by the uncertainty surrounding SARS. Many mainland productions wereforced to suspend shooting during the outbreak and several films inpre-production have been delayed.

Columbia Asia and Huayi are also teaming on Feng Xiaogang's Cell Phone, which is currently shooting in China, but was mostly in the can before the SARS outbreak became serious. The film, which is scheduled to wrap in the next 10 days, is a comedy about the effect of modern communications on daily life. Feng regulars Ge You and Xu Fan head the cast.

Columbia Asia and Huayi also co-produced Feng's last film, Big Shot's Funeral, which was one of the mainland's top grossing domestic movies last year. Columbia Asia's other recent productions include Taiwanese thriller Double Vision, Hong Kong action title So Close and period epic Warriors Of Heaven And Earth, directed by China's He Ping, which is slated for release on the mainland in September.