(FORTUNE Magazine) – While LG and Samsung struggle to restart broken-down U.S. hardware companies, one of their energetic compatriots is cruising fast down the soft lane. Miky Lee, a Korean heiress who recently persuaded her family company to invest $300 million in DreamWorks SKG, the most anticipated startup in moviedom, is betting she can turn food processor Cheil Jedang into an Asian entertainment colossus. Says Lee, 38: "This is not a dead-end investment but the beginning of our own new business in Korea."

Lee gets distribution rights everywhere in Asia, except Japan, to DreamWorks' movies, but she's not stopping there. She's started a slew of ventures at home: her own film production studio, a distributor, a chain of multiplex theaters, and a record company--and she's looking into amusement parks. Lee calculates that profits will start rolling in within three to five years. It looks like a long shot to some security analysts in Seoul, where Cheil last year squeezed out a pretax profit of less than $13 million on $2.1 billion in revenues.

But Lee--whose late grandfather founded Cheil as a sugar refinery and expanded it into the mighty Samsung Group--regards her bold plan as a natural extension of a venerable family business that touches the lives of virtually every Korean. Says she: "We breathe with consumers." Synergies she sees include having some of the 130,000 retailers of Cheil foods sell videos of movies and putting film characters on packaged-food labels. And though her family inherited only the Cheil business, not all of Samsung, her pockets are deep: Cheil's stakes in Samsung companies are worth a total of around $1 billion.

Lee seems well equipped to sense the tastes of an increasingly affluent younger generation of Asians. A brainy cosmopolitan, she was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, where her parents were studying. She grew up in Korea and earned degrees from the elite Seoul National University and Harvard. In her travels she developed a passion for movies--both as a business and as a potent means of communication.

In late 1994, while working as a strategic planner for Samsung Electronics in New York, she learned that DreamWorks was looking for investors. One meeting with founders Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, and David Geffen sold Lee. And the Hollywood power trio liked her energy and ambition; Katzenberg called her "awesome." Samsung, however, didn't share her enthusiasm for investing $900 million in a movie startup, especially after the costly Hollywood misadventures of Japan's Sony and Matsushita. But once Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, put in $500 million, Lee decided that Cheil could afford to put up $300 million itself.

Lee thinks she can avoid the disasters suffered by the Japanese. The crucial difference, she says, lies in her U.S. partners, "who know what they are doing and are extremely good at it." She also points out that while the Japanese invested in existing companies, "this is a startup, so there aren't any bad habits or old problems." In that, she's more fortunate than her compatriots at AST and Zenith.