Purple Mountain, a feature film about the Nanjing massacre during WWII, started shooting yesterday in Nanjing's Pukou train station with Con Air director Simon West working off a script by Jeffrey Caine, who previously adapted The Constant Gardener.

The project is budgeted at $51m (RMB400m), co-produced by Jiangsu Province Cultural Industry Group and Switzerland-based Omega Entertainment with founder Markus Barmettler and Jiangsu's Li Xiangmin as producers.

The film-makers are hoping the film will appeal to a wide audience, as with Spielberg's Holocaust film Schindler's List.

The story of Purple Mountain revolves around the Japanese invasion of Nanjing between 1937 and 1938 and the large scale slaughter of civilians during the period. It also depicts foreign expatriates in Nanjing, such as John Rabe and Minnie Vautrin, setting up shelters to protect Chinese people from Japanese brutality.

The film was initiated by the Jiangsu group and Hollywood-based Viridian Entertainment. But the Jiangsu group was forced to change partners earlier this year when Viridian failed to put its planned investment of at least $20m in place, according to the film's Chinese producer Li Xiangmin.

Robert Fraisse (Hotel Rwanda) will serve as DoP with Gary Steele as production designer.

West said on Wednesday (Aug 1)that casting would be announced soon. 'He [the lead actor] will be a Hollywood actor,' West was quoted as saying.

Purple Mountain is the first among the Nanjing massacre-related movies to have started shooting. Also in preparationare Chinese director Lu Chuan's Nanking! Nanking! and Hong Kong director Yim Ho's Nanking Xmas 1937.

The film is scheduled to wrap by the end of the year for a planned summer 2008 release.