Before the Sars virus sent film crews running scared, the mainland was emerging as a popular shooting base for foreign movie-makers looking for fresh locations and low-cost studios and crew. Quentin Tarantino's kung fu-inspired revenge story Kill Bill is probably the most high-profile foreign production to touch down in China over the past year. Tarantino shot so much footage in China, and other locations including Japan, Mexico and California, that US studio Miramax recently announced Kill Bill would be released in two parts - with volume one rolling out on October 10 in the US. European film crews also turn up in China from time to time and space-squeezed Hong Kong filmmakers have long been wise to the benefits of shooting on the mainland. But it now seems their counterparts from around Asia are getting in on the act. Shanghai hosted two Japanese productions last year - the US$17-million second world war drama Spy Sorge and the US$9.5-million thriller T.R.Y., about a Japanese criminal in the early 20th century who is recruited to work for the Chinese triads. Several South Korean films have also been filmed on the mainland over the past few years, including martial arts epic Bichunmoo and, more recently, historical fantasy Legend Of The Evil Lake. The latter, directed by Lee Kwang-hoon and starring Jung Jun-ho (Marrying The Mafia), took the same route as Tarantino and was set up as an assisted co-production or xie pai which gives the filmmakers much more flexibility. All films that shoot on the mainland have to be set up as a co-production with a mainland film studio but 'full' co-productions or he pai have to be set on the mainland and at least half the cast and crew have to be mainland Chinese. Assisted co-productions - in which the mainland studio provides facilities and labour for a fee - can't be released in China, but can be set anywhere and made with an almost entirely foreign cast and crew. Kill Bill used Beijing Film Studio and various other Chinese locations to stand in for Japan while Legend Of The Evil Lake, which started shooting last October, used Zhejiang province to double for Korea. 'We decided to shoot in China because of the low costs,' says Jonathan Kim who produced the film with Hong Kong-based producer Thomas Leong. 'We were making a period film and Chinese art departments can save you up to 70 per cent on costumes and props.' The US$5-million film, a remake of a 1969 Korean tale, The Thousand-Year Fox, tells how a general falls for a common woman who is possessed by an evil spirit that he has to kill. Although Kim insists it's not an action film, it involves epic battle scenes, wirework and sword-fighting, so the producers brought on board Hong Kong action director Yuen Tak. Film extras - essential for battle scenes - are also much cheaper in China than in South Korea, but Kim says that, unlike the producers of Zhang Yimou's Hero and Peter Pau's The Touch, he didn't have access to PLA soldiers. 'We were picking up people from the neighbouring farms who didn't have any experience of film production,' he explains. 'These guys would just leave if it got too hot or if they decided it wasn't worth the money. And they wouldn't stop smoking and this was supposed to be 7th-century Korea!' Kim also ran into problems with the weather - torrential rain interfered with schedules in January - and the mainland crew demanded a month off or 300 per cent overtime during Chinese New Year. As the cast and crew were cold and tired - and the Koreans hadn't been home for three months - Kim decided to give everyone a holiday until the beginning of March. But in other areas, Kim found Chinese film crew outclassed their equivalents in South Korea - particularly in the art department where, due to a job-for-life mentality, people had spent decades perfecting their craft. Pitched as being in a similar vein to Tsui Hark-produced classic A Chinese Ghost Story, Legend Of The Evil Lake is in post-production in South Korea and is scheduled for completion at the end of July. Towards the end of the shoot in April, Sars had started to make headlines on the mainland but didn't mess with schedules or scare the cast and crew. But while the disease and accompanying media frenzy are long gone, Chinese production service companies fear it will take time to lure western producers back to the mainland. Fortunately, their more pragmatic Asian counterparts aren't so easily spooked. 'Shooting in China is a fascinating experience. I would definitely return if I was making another period piece,' says Kim. And he adds that Sars may not be as threatening if it re-emerges - kimchi is known to be a natural preventative, he asserts.