The Beijing Film Studio, which has hosted many high-profile productions from China and abroad, has been bombarded with press and onlookers this week. More than 150 journalists have been camping out at the studios' gates, and 50 burly security guards have been hired to keep them at bay. The reason for all the excitement is the start of production of mainland director Chen Kaige's new film, The Promise (Wu Ji), a big-budget fantasy epic that involves some of the hottest talent from around the region. Hong Kong's Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi and Nicholas Tse Ting-fung are heading the cast, along with Korean actor Jang Dong-kun and Japan's Hiroyuki Sanada. If the last two names sound unfamiliar, Jang is one of Korea's biggest stars and is currently appearing in the war movie Taegukgi, which was a massive hit in his home country last month. Sanada is equally huge in Japan. He starred in the horror movie The Ring and its sequels, and recently played Ken Watanabe's sidekick in The Last Samurai. The Promise also stars up-and-coming mainland star Liu Ye, who won a Golden Horse for Stanley Kwan Kam-pang's Lan Yu and last year appeared in Carol Lai Miu-suet's The Floating Landscape. The film also involves some top behind-the-camera talent, including cinematographer Peter Pau Tak-hai and art director Tim Yip Kam-tim - Oscar-winners for their work on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The action choreographer is Dion Lam Tat-ho, whose credits include some of Hong Kong's biggest action movies, including Black Mask and The Storm Riders, and who recently finished work on Hollywood blockbuster Spider-Man II. With such a strong line-up of pan-Asian talent, and funding from Asia and the US, the film is bound to draw comparisons to Zhang Yimou's Hero, which was a huge hit around the region at the beginning of last year. Indeed, following the success of that film, it seems that a growing number of mainland filmmakers now have the confidence to make blockbusters. But The Promise is quite different to Hero in style and content. According to a source: 'It's a drama about love, freedom and destiny, set in an imaginary historical world. It has lots of action scenes, but it's not exactly a martial arts movie.' Although the producers are keeping the story under wraps for now, it's understood that Cheung plays a princess who is orphaned and presented with a difficult choice at an early age. If she promises to forsake true love, she can have everything else her heart desires. She makes the promise, but then love appears in an unexpected form. The film, which has been dubbed the 'Asian Lord of the Rings' by local press, is scheduled to shoot for six months and involves major special effects work that should take a further 10 months to complete. After filming at Beijing Film studio, the production is expected to move to Hengdian Film and TV City near Shanghai - where some of Hero was shot - and picturesque Yunnan province. On a slighter smaller scale, but also likely to be a hit at the mainland box office, Sunflower, the latest film from popular mainland director Zhang Yang, also started shooting last week. Zhang's previous films - Spicy Love Soup, Shower and Quitting - all scored with both audiences and critics, thanks to their honest and witty portrayals of life in contemporary, urban China. Sunflower is likely to be in a similar vein, but is a little more epic, spanning 30 years of Chinese history from the last year of the Cultural Revolution to the present day. Produced by Beijing-based US producer Peter Loehr, Hong Kong-based Fortissimo Films and the China Film Group, the film tells the story of a typical Chinese family and how they deal with the tumultuous events and changing social condition of the past three decades. The rebellious nine-year-old son of the family has his independence unexpectedly curtailed when his father returns from a work camp. Joan Chen and popular TV actor Sun Haiying play the parents. Christopher Doyle will act as the film's visual consultant. Loehr is also working on a big-budget adaptation of Judge Dee novel, Murder in Canton, which Hollywood director John McTiernan is attached to direct. The script of the film is nearly finished and Loehr says he hopes the film will start shooting this summer. With Chen's The Promise and whispers of several other China-set blockbusters, it could be a busy time for mainland film crews this year.