IfChina wasn't such a big place, the film crews would be tripping over each otherthis summer. Several international productions are gearing up to shoot in thecountry which, following a temporary Sars-induced blip, has once again become ahot production base.

On August 15, The Painted Veil, which John Curran isdirecting for Warner Independent Pictures and Stratus Film Co, starts shootingin China for 12 weeks. Starring Ed Norton and Naomi Watts, the period drama isheaded for studios and locations in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangxi province inthe south of China.

It's understood that the film will be the firstinternational production to be co-produced by Warner China Film - the jointproduction venture between Warner Bros, China Film Group and the giant HengdianGroup. Dragon Studios, which Beijing-based producer Peter Loehr founded withHengdian, is providing production services for the film.

Meanwhile, Loehr's other outfit, Ming Productions, has threeprojects scheduled to shoot in China in the fourth quarter of the year. Firstup is Finland's first ever kung-fu movie, Jade Warrior, a co-productionwith Finland's Blind Spot Pictures, Estonia's Film Tower and Dutch productionhouse Fu Works. The film starts production in Finland in August and will shoot outsideHengdian World Studios in October for three weeks.

Ming is also co-producing two films set to start productionin November - The Bitter Sea, to be directed by Roger Spottiswoode andstar Brendan Fraser (see ScreenDaily.com, July 24), and action adventureThe White Phoenix (previously called Murder In Canton). Thelatter project, a co-production with France's Davis Films and D+ Productions,will now be directed by Tsui Hark who replaces John McTiernan.

Tom Cruise and the production of Mission: Impossible 3are also expected to land in China later this year. The film's second unit isalready shooting aerial scenes in Shanghai.

All this is in addition to the three international filmsthat wrapped this month - Impact Pictures' DOA: Dead Or Alive, directedby Cory Yuen; Ronny Yu's Fearless, starring Jet Li, and Rai Cinema's TheMissing Star, directed by Gianni Amelio. Mar de Oro Films' Shanghai Red,starring Vivian Wu and billed as the first US independent film to shoot inChina, has been filming at Shanghai Film Studios since mid-June.

Last year, China quietly relaxed the rules for foreignproductions. Foreign films shooting in China no longer have to co-produce witha state-owned studio - they can partner with any company that is registered inChina with capital of at least $123m (RMB1m). But this factor alone isn'tenough to explain the boom.

"There's also a lot of great material here and growinginternational interest in China," says Loehr who is also advising CAA onbreaking into the China market. "People are looking for stories that work herebecause China is really hot right now."

Low costs and a growing number of facilitators are alsoencouraging international shoots. Foreign producers are also starting to optfor full co-production - which involves investment from the Chinese side -rather than assisted co-production, in which state-owned studios provideservices for a fee.

The former method is more difficult to arrange but resultingfilms are classed as domestic productions and can bypass China's import quotas.Merchant Ivory's The White Countess started the trend last year and ThePainted Veil is also taking this route.

Meanwhile, China's recent 2.1% appreciation of its currencydoesn't seem to be taking the shine off Chinese locations - at least not yet."Everyone is watching carefully but it doesn't make a huge difference so far,"says Painted Veil line producer Antonia Barnard. "It might put peopleoff if it moves further but it really depends on how much you're spendinghere."

International producers are also waiting to see how China'sproposed international co-production treaties progress. China is currentlynegotiating co-production treaties with several territories including the UK,Australia and Germany and signed an agreement with Italy last December.Official treaties would enable producers to combine Europe's soft money withChina's low costs.