THE TEENAGERS GATHER in the covered driveway of the Island Shangri-La - close enough to keep an eye on things, but far enough away so as not to raise the ire of the team of doormen who control the comings and goings. The cameras around their necks are the first sign that these kids are here for a purpose, not merely to escape the Friday afternoon downpour that briefly turned the road outside into a torrent. A press conference for Italian footballing giants AC Milan has finished upstairs and some of the world's most famous players - Paolo Maldini and Andriy Shevchenko among them - are milling around the hotel entrance, looking bemused for once by the lack of attention they are receiving, as they wait to be carted off to their next engagement. The footballers may be heroes to millions across the globe, but the kids outside look straight through them. They're more concerned with what's happening on the hotel's top floor, where interviews are being held as part of a publicity push for the South Korean film Windstruck. It speaks volumes for the relentless rise in popularity of Korean cinema in Hong Kong that the two stars of Windstruck - Jun Ji-hyun and Jang Hyuk - have eclipsed the Serie A champions. Teams of TV crews and reporters have flown from Seoul to join the local contingent for a day of interviews. And upstairs they are milling around talking, some even catching a quick nap on the hotel couches, waiting for their allotted 20 minutes with the principals. My time finally comes to talk to 28-year- old Jang - known to local audiences thanks to 2002's Volcano High and his turn in local director Fruit Chan's Public Toilet. First he has his hair professionally messed by an assistant, then a dab of makeup. Now he's ready to talk about why his country's film output has been turning heads. 'Hong Kong has long had an established, internationally known industry,' he says. 'Taiwan is known for its dramas, and its TV shows, and Japan has everything covered. As for Korea, we are relatively new - and people like that. It's fresh and new, undiscovered. And the more popular it gets, the more people become involved in it. We have directors now who are willing to try anything.' One of those directors is Kwak Jae-yong, whose two previous productions - 2001's My Sassy Girl and last year's The Classic - poured pure box-office gold all over Asia. He is back at the helm with Windstruck - a comic love story of sorts, in which Jun plays a police officer and Jang the man she mistakes for a purse snatcher. It is a clever combination - Jun was the star of My Sassy Girl, which took in $14 million, making it the most popular Korean film to play here, and Jang has achieved heart-throb status thanks to his films, and appearances in TV dramas such as Successful Story of a Happy Girl. 'The internet is very big in Korea,' says Jang. 'It helps us keep up with trends overseas and which stars are popular. I think this has helped our film industry because we are able to promote the people the fans like. We know what the demands are and we try to meet them. It's pretty simple.' Hong Kong has been chosen to launch Windstruck because the film is a joint production between Bill Kong's Edko Films and Korea's i Film. When it opens tomorrow, it will be the first time a production has premiered in Korea and China on the same day. Jang believes the move is part of a gradual blending of Asian markets, so that regional films can compete with Hollywood heavyweights. 'Hollywood is known for big-budget films and Europe for art-house films. So they are two markets we can't really compete with,' he says. 'That is why joint productions like this are the way forward if we are to be competitive - we need to present the world with Asian films. We need to create this fusion culture where we can get together and work - it would be very healthy to mix all our talents. In this way all our industries will survive.' He points to Kwak - also in town to promote the film - as one of the directors who can make very 'Korean' films, but ones appreciated by an international market. 'He has a very good feeling for characters,' says Jang. 'One that is universal, one that appeals to people everywhere. They might be Korean stories that he is telling, with Korean characters, but people can recognise bits of themselves in his films.' And he believes Windstruck does the same. 'The success he's had shows how talented he is as a director,' says Jang, as one of the publicity officers lets me know we have just two minutes left and the next journalist paces the floor. 'He develops a very close relationship with his cast, and I think that shows in his films.' And by picking two stars who have a close relationship with Hong Kong audiences, he is guaranteeing himself a box-office winner, I suggest. 'Yes,' he laughs standing up to get his hair tousled once again. 'That is all part of the business. I have a large fan base in Hong Kong - I keep in touch with them via the internet and let them know what I'm working on and what I'm doing. And everyone knows Jun. The two of us together should be a success - at least that's the plan.' Windstruck opens tomorrow.