Copyright 2001 Reuters

[ September 11th 2001 ]

She is 17 or 18 years old, 1.7 meters tall with an Asian face and the figure of a Scandinavian swimwear model. She's "Chyna" - the Middle Kingdom's answer to voluptuous virtual action queen Lara Croft.

Known as "Qing Na" in Chinese, the computer-generated starlet will make her debut on October 1 in a five-minute animation sequence billed as China's first ever all-digital film. But her creators are already plotting a glittering multi-media career - from record contracts to video games - on a scale to rival the heroine of the hit video game "Tomb Raider".

"We had all the most beautiful, uniquely Chinese features in our minds when we pictured her image in our head," said Wu Yong, art director at Dream Space Digital Image Co, which designed Chyna based on girls from Hong Kong and the mainland. "She is about 17 or 18 years old, stands about 1.7 meters high and has brown eyes and dark hair," he said. "Some of it is dyed a fashionable light brown which is very popular among Chinese youths."

Independent and rebellious with a sentimental streak, Chyna is, in short, Wu's fantasy woman. State media describe her rather more prudishly as "a young dynamic woman, who demonstrates dazzling acrobatic dances and songs".

The two million yuan (165,751 pounds) five-minute short, to premiere at Beijing's Millennium Monument, is co-produced by Beijing Forbidden City and Trinity Co Ltd and Beijing Millennium Monument Digital Media Co. They say the technology behind Chyna can match recent Western computer-generated movies like the $115 million (78.9 million pound) "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within".

The film will show her against backdrops including the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids and Easter Island. She will have a male sidekick named Qin Yong, inspired by the terracotta warriors who guard the tomb of the Qin dynasty Emperor Qinshihuang in the northwestern city of Xian.

But Chyna is headed for greater things. "This five-minute movie is just the start of her life and career," said a spokeswoman for Beijing Forbidden City and Trinity. Next come music albums, toys, photobooks, television shows and video games. Another short film is already slated for May 2002.

"Qing Na is rather like a reverse of Lara Croft," said Liu Huhu, president of Beijing Millennium Monument Digital Media. "We make an all-digital movie first, then launch into games and other industries."

Lara Croft - a sassy English archaeologist - began life as the main character in the video game "Tomb Raider", produced by Britain's Eidos. She has since become an international pop icon incarnated by Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie in the Hollywood blockbuster "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider".

Chyna has yet to hit the mainstream, but she is in hot pursuit of her Western counterpart. The first Chyna toys are expected to hit the market at the movie's premiere, Liu said. She is already registered as a trademark and has licensing deals with several video game, stationery and clothing companies, mostly from Hong Kong.

China's biggest personal computer maker, Legend Holdings, is considering using her in its advertisements alongside Zhang Ziyi, star of the Oscar-winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", Liu said. And Chinese soft drinks maker Wahaha has plans to team her up with the face of its current ad campaign, comedian Stephen Chow -- star of the Hong Kong smash hit "Shaolin Soccer".

All that remains is to find a real-life Chyna -- and that should not take long. Her creators recently launched a nationwide campaign to find the perfect look-alike to be the star of a television show to be shown next summer.

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