Columbia Tristar is to fully finance a major new Korean production directed by Cinema Service founder Kang Woo-suk. The $10m feature, titled Silmi Island, is the first instance of a Hollywood studio fully funding and taking on worldwide distribution rights for a Korean movie.

The Korean-language film, which will be produced by Jonathan Kim at Hanmac Films, is based on a 1968 historical event about a group of South Korean spies trained to infiltrate the North. Harshly mistreated during their training, the group ultimately revolts and hijacks a bus in Seoul with the intent to assassinate President Park Chung-hee.

Kang Woo-suk, director and founder of Korean major Cinema Service, will take on directing duties following the runaway success of his last film Public Enemy, which has grossed $15m since its release in late January. Although casting and locations for the film are yet to be determined, the project is tentatively scheduled to start shooting this summer, with a release planned for May 2003.

Local distribution will be handled by Cinema Service on a commission basis, with Columbia taking worldwide distribution rights. Revenues from the Korean release will reportedly be divided evenly between Columbia and Hanmac Films, in accordance with Korean distribution practices.

"For about four years we have been looking for a Korean feature to finance and distribute internationally," said Kwon Hyuk-jo, managing director of Columbia's Korean branch office which helped to orchestrate the deal. "The incident on Silmi Island is a story of such impact that after seeing a translation of the scenario, Columbia's Hollywood office enthusiastically agreed."