Born in China but raised in Boston, Donnie Yen became a martial arts prodigy at a young age. Returning to China to continue his training, he was soon drafted into the movie business and made his mark during the halcyon age of Hong Kong action flicks (late 80s to early 90s). His Hollywood career hasn't gone beyond supporting roles (Highlander: Endgame, Shanghai Knights) but Western audiences became more familiar with him thanks to Zhang Yimou's Hero, in which Yen dueled Jet Li to the death. Recently Yen completed a string of three films with Hong Kong director Wilson Yip: the sensational Kill Zone, the oft-silly Dragon Tiger Gate and Flashpoint, which is due for release in Asia next month. Yen and Yip will team up again for the just-announced Painted Skin.

Painted Skin is notable on a couple of fronts. It's said to be the "first movie collaboration between filmmakers in Singapore and China," according to Channel NewsAsia; Singapore actor Qi Yu Wu has already been lined up to co-star. And it's one of the first Mainland China productions to feature a supernatural theme: the story revolves around a love/hate relationship between a ghostly vixen and a group of humans. Variety notes that "ghosts feature prominently in Chinese literature, but rarely make it to the big screen. Censors have long frowned on the genre for fear it will upset the masses." 'Upsetting the masses' is another way of saying that "secret societies based on arcane beliefs have posed threats to China's power structure for centuries," in the view of author Stefan Hammond, who wrote a fascinating article on the subject a few years ago. In any event, though the female lead has yet to be cast, filming for Painted Skin is expected to begin later this year or early next, with both Wilson Yip and Andy Chin set to direct. With tons of digital effects planned, Yen's new Skin may not make it onto screens until late 2008.