Silmi Island (working title), Columbia TriStar's first foray into the South Korean production sector, started principal photography on March 1.

Fully financed by Columbia for $10m, an unusually high budget by local standards, the Korean-language feature is directed by Cinema Service founder Kang Woo-suk.

Kang, a producer and investor who also directed the hit comedies Two Cops (1993) and Public Enemy (2002), is widely regarded as the most powerful figure in the Korean film industry.

Silmi Island is based on a real-life incident from 1971 in which South Korean assassins trained to infiltrate the North revolted against the harsh and inhumane treatment they received from the authorities. With the intent of assassinating the South Korean president, the group hijacked a bus and came strikingly close to achieving their goal.

A top-line male cast has been assembled for the feature, with Sol Kyung-gu (Oasis) and veteran actor Ahn Sung-ki (Musa) taking lead roles. Supporting actors include Jung Jae-young (No Blood No Tears), Kang Sung-jin (Jail Breakers), Im Won-hee (Funny Movie), and Heo Jun-ho (Volcano High).

This marks the second South Korean feature to be financed by a Hollywood company, following $2.5m horror title The Phone which grossed a stellar $11.2m for Buena Vista International on its local release last summer.

Silmi Island is produced by Hanmac Films and will be distributed locally by Cinema Service on a fee basis, with Columbia Tristar taking worldwide rights. It is expected to reach cinemas by the end of 2003.