Disneyhas unveiled its first Chinese co-production - family-themed feature The Secret Of The Magic Gourd - which iscurrently shooting in Hangzhouin southern China.

The film, which wasannounced at the CineAsia conference today in Beijing, is a co-production between Disney's internationaltheatrical arm Buena Vista International, Hong Kong-based visual effects houseCentro Digital Pictures and the China Film Group Corp.

BVI president Mark Zoradiwas in town to make the announcement alongside Centro CEO John Chu and ChinaFilm chairman and CEO Yang Buting.

Although aimed atChinese-speaking markets, Zoradi didn't rule out releasing the film in otherterritories. "We hope that we'll not only be financing but also distributing inmany countries around the world," Zoradi said.

Based on a popular Chinesenovel by celebrated children's writer, the late Zhang Tianyi, the film isproduced and directed by Centro's Chu with Frankie Chung as co-director andDoris Tse as co-producer. Chung was visual effects supervisor on Stephen Chow'sKung-fu Hustle, one of severalinternational films that Centro has worked on along with Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill and Chen Kaige's upcoming Master Of The Crimson Armor (aka The Promise).

"Chinese cinema has takenthe world by storm in recent years, and as China celebrates a hundred years ofmovie making in 2005, it's a perfect time for Disney to bring its wholesomefamily entertainment expertise to this rapidly growing market as part of TheWalt Disney Company's focus on expanding our presence in China," said WaltDisney Studios chairman Dick Cook in a statement.

Chinese authorities have been toutingco-productions as an effective method of accessing the China market as import quotasare not likely to be relaxed any time soon. Full co-productions are classed asdomestic titles and bypass China's annual quota of 20 revenue-sharing films.

Sony has co-produced severalfilms with China, including Kung-fuHustle, through its Hong Kong-based Columbia Pictures Film Production Asiaunit. Meanwhile Warner Bros has a joint production venture with China Film andthe Hengdian Group - Warner China HG Corporation - which is co-producing JohnCurran's The Painted Veil, starringEd Norton and Naomi Watts, with the US' Yari Film Group.

Paramount Pictures is alsoactively pursuing Chinese co-productions and recently signed former MiramaxAsia consultant Dede Nickerson to a producing deal.

The Disney co-production hasbeen shooting in Hangzhou since October 29 and is scheduled to wrap in early2006 for nationwide theatrical release in China during the second half of the year.

The film tells the story ofa young boy who comes across a mysterious Magic Gourd which helps himachieve anything he wants simply bythinking about it. However he soon realises that the magic comes with a price.The film's emphasis on the importance of education is a good fit with both theDisney brand of family entertainment and China's censorship board.

BVI executive vice presidentLawrence Kaplan said the company has been looking for the right Chinese projectfor a few years and is considering further co-productions. "This was the bestopportunity we've seen for many years and we've seen a lot of projects," Kaplansaid.