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Emperor Motion Picture Group's The Twins Effect II, the sequel to last year's blockbuster action comedy which is currently shooting in China, seems to encapsulate many things about the current mood in the Hong Kong film industry.

Firstly, the film is crammed full of stars, hence its hefty US$10m budget, which reflects the growing confidence that Hong Kong producers are feeling as they head into the Year of the Monkey.

In addition to white-hot pop stars Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung, the film stars Daniel Wu, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Donnie Yen, Taiwanese heartthrob Chen Bo-lin and Jackie Chan's son, Chan Cho-ming, in his feature debut. In addition, Jackie Chan and Edison Chen will make special guest appearances.

Secondly, the sequel is radically different to the original film in that it's been tailored to match the requirements of the mainland market. The first Twins Effect movie, a purely Hong Kong production, was not considered eligible for distribution in China as the story revolved around vampires - usually a no-no with mainland film censors. However, in the sequel, which has been set up as a Hong Kong-China co-production, the vampires are gone and Choi and Chung play warriors in a fictional all-female nation, set about one thousand years in the past.

Indeed, the China market, coupled with strong results for several Hong Kong films in the second half of last year, is inspiring most local studios to ramp up production. Following its success with the Infernal Affairs trilogy, Media Asia has signed up two of the hottest directors from Hong Kong and the mainland - Johnnie To and Feng Xiaogang - to direct three films over the coming year.

To will direct a HK$20m police action drama, Breaking News, starring Richie Jen and Kelly Chen, followed by a HK$40m romantic comedy with Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng. Feng will direct a comedy drama starring Lau, mainland star Ge You and Taiwan's Rene Liu.

Universe Entertainment, one of the most active companies in co-producing with the mainland, has also lined up an ambitious slate for 2004 including films from top directors such as Benny Chan, the Pang Brothers and Derek Yee.

Twin brothers Danny and Oxide Pang will direct one film each for Universe - each of which will star a member of pop duo Twins who confusingly are not even related in real life. Chung will star in Oxide Pang's thriller Abnormal Beauty while Choi has been cast in Danny Pang's drama Leave Me Alone. Both are set to start shooting in April.

China Star's new slate includes Johnnie To's ensemble drama, Judo Dragon Tiger Chart, along with projects from James Yuen, Wong Jing and Marco Matt.

Meanwhile, distributor Panorama Entertainment is also stepping up production this year emboldened by the success of its first production, comedy Naked Ambition, released last year. The company has lined up Gordon Chan to direct a thriller, First Lesson, starring Angelica Lee Sin-je and Anthony Wong and is also developing projects with Aubrey Lam and Fruit Chan.