THERE ARE TIMES when things fall into place so neatly that one can be left a little overwhelmed. And so it must have been when director Carol Lai Miu-suet looked at the final list of her cast and crew for her first major mainstream film, Floating Landscape. Lai's list boasts two award-winning actors and a Canto-pop star as leads, an award-winning director as producer and a multiple award-winning art director - and all of them working for a director with just two small independent features to her name. 'Just before the shoot, a friend of mind pointed out that my name will be the least known on the credits. And he's right,'' says Lai. Floating Landscape tells the story of a make-up artist who travels to Qingdao after her boyfriend's death to search for a mysterious landscape that he drew before he died. While in Qingdao, she struggles with newfound feelings for a young postman she meets there and guilt that she is being disloyal to her dead boyfriend. The film stars new acting sensation Karena Lam Kar-yan, who scooped both best new performer and best supporting actress awards for her work in Ann Hui On-wah's July Rhapsody. Mainland actor Liu Ye - who was named best actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards last year for Stanley Kwan Kam-pang's Lan Yu - plays the postman who steals her heart. Canto-pop singer and star of the Young And Dangerous series Ekin Cheng Yee-kin portrays her artist boyfriend. The film also has Kwan as producer and regular Wong Kar-wai cohort William Chang Suk-ping as art director, as well as featuring animation from Taiwanese illustrator Jimmy Liao (Turn Left, Turn Right). Lai says she was fortunate with how her young but talented actors went about their business. Despite her growing popularity, Lam was willing to audition for the role - rare in the Hong Kong film industry. 'Karena was really excellent to work with and she caught on really fast. Liu Ye and Ekin, on the other hand, were just like big kids on set but they were very respectful,'' says Lai. The idea behind Floating Landscape came from Lai, who admits to having some fascination for the profession of a postman and the theme of self-healing. 'I think the postman reference may be a throwback to my early career when I was working as a production manager and had to go around scouting for locations,'' she says. 'At the core of my films, you will find that they are about finding ways of healing ourselves by putting the past behind and moving on. I think we should enjoy living in the present.'' The 36-year-old director's resume also reflects that restlessness. She started her career as a line producer but found she didn't enjoy the work. She then joined satellite broadcaster STAR as a buyer before hopping over to Cable TV as a programmer. Finding it was not to her tastes, Lai then returned to STAR as a producer, doing on-air promotions for the channel. Eight years ago, she finally made the plunge into the directing world by doing an independent feature, Father's Toy, funded in part by the Arts Development Council (ADC) with the rest coming out of her own pocket. It wasn't until the marketing major from Chinese University of Hong Kong started work on her acclaimed Glass Tears three years ago that she finally quit her job at STAR to become a full-time filmmaker. Like Father's Toy, Glass Tears - about the angst of a young girl from a broken family - also benefited from an ADC grant, with the rest of the money coming from other funding put together by producer Joe Ma Wai-ho (Love Undercover). 'That was made on only $500,000 so it wasn't a big problem for Joe getting the money,'' Lai recalls. Despite the small budget, the film won enough respect for it to be invited to the Director's Fortnight screenings at the 2001 Cannes International Film Festival. 'That helped a lot when I was starting work on Floating Landscape. Although people may not have seen the film, they at least heard enough to notice that there was such a filmmaker around,'' explains Lai. Initially, Ma - who Lai knew from her days as a line producer - had also been interested in producing the film but more as a low-budget independent feature than a mainstream film. 'I wanted it to be beautiful and romantic, and I wanted to try my hand at a more commercial genre,'' she says. The director also knew she wanted Liu in the lead after watching him in Lan Yu, a dream that was realised when Kwan came on board as producer. 'He's popular these days and has so much work, not only in China but also in France so I wasn't sure if I could get him,'' she says. Through Kwan's connections, funding came in from several sources with a major portion from local film production company Filmko Pictures, which has produced films such as July Rhapsody and Inner Senses. To match the romance of the story, Lai chose the picturesque setting of Qingdao. But shooting started in the middle of winter, which proved daunting for both cast and crew. 'Karena grew up in Canada so she was used to the cold but I think she didn't expect it to be that much colder in Qingdao. Liu Ye was the only one who wasn't bothered by the cold because he was used to it. The energy level on set was lower than it could have been,'' says Lai. Lai also spent a lot of time searching for the mysterious landscape. She found the perfect peach orchard outside Qingdao late last year but was dismayed to find it had been bulldozed to make way for a major development project when she returned to start filming. 'The owners offered us an alternative but it was a pear orchard that didn't look as good as the peach. Eventually we found another peach farm that we finally used, so we were lucky,'' adds Lai. With not much to smile about these days, it is little wonder that Lai plans to do a comedy next. 'I've tried teen angst, I've tried romance, now it's time to move on and tackle something new.'' Floating Landscape opens today.