Following its investment in Beijing-basedChengtian Entertainment, Japan's Avex is making a push into Chinese production by co-financingtwo of the company's upcoming productions - Li Yu's Apple and a biopic to be directed by Chen Kaige.

Chen, who most recentlydirected big-budget fantasy epic ThePromise, is developing a film based on the life of legendary Chinese operasinger Mei Lanfang who provided inspiration for the director's award-winning Farewell My Concubine. The $10m project isscheduled to start shooting early next year.

Apple, directedby Li Yu (Dam Street) and starring Tony Leung Ka-fai and Fan Bingbing, revolvesaround two couples in Beijing- one rich and powerful and the other immigrant workers from the provinces. Avexis investing 25% of the budget of the $3-4m drama, produced by Chengtian andFang Li's Laurel Films, which started shooting last month in Beijing.

One of Japan's most powerful music companies, Avex Entertainmenthas been expanding into film and other media and also geographically across Asia. The company's Hong Kong-based subsidiary Avex Asia recently set up a pan-Asianproduction arm and appointed Esther Koo as head of film development.

The new outfit plans to co-developand co-produce films with other Asian partners, with a focus on projects thatcan cross borders and also work in Japan.

"We've grown as much as wecan in Japan and see the Asian market growing and workingtogether," says Avex Asia managing director Buddy Marini. "Japanese and Koreanstars are travelling in Asia and there will be big stars coming out of China in the next ten years. We wanted to set up a networkto take advantage of that."

Avex announced last monththat it's acquiring a 20% stake in Beijing-based talent agency and productionhouse Chengtian Entertainment. It also plans to set up a music-oriented jointventure with the company.

Avex is also investing indomestic Japanese productions such as BlueWolf: The End Of The Earth And Sea, the $20m Genghis Khan biopic producedby Haruki Kadokawa. Head of acquisition Ken Umehara is also acquiring Japaneserights to non-Asian product such as Stephen Frears' Venice hit The Queen.