Deep in the Act
First Published on Chaleuria
After lunch, the core production team visited the new filming location together: an underground parking garage, which was one of the key settings in the film. The film crew had constructed the set in the suburbs. The setting was recreated in full realistic detail, complete with parking lots, appropriate lights, and even elevators. Some of the cars required for the set were already in place, but they were still short of five Volkswagens and seven Hondas. At the center of the field of vision stood Zhang Zhun’s Porsche Cayenne; its newly-waxed, deep Prussian blue1 surface gleamed luxuriously in the light from the welding that was still going on around them.
After instructing Zhang Zhun to stand by the car, Chen Cheng-Sen began examining the image in the viewfinder over and over again, scrutinizing the composition down to its finest details. A Hunanese girl from the costume department stood beside him. With her phone in hand, she noted down every change he wanted to make to Zhang Zhun’s outfit. He wanted the waist of the jacket to be taken in further, for example, and the color of its sleeve buttons to be changed to ultramarine. His list of proposed changes included even alterations to the cuff length of the jacket and the material of Zhang Zhun’s shoelaces. In Chen Cheng-Sen’s words, “The upcoming scene is a real killer. We’ll be using extreme close-ups in this one.”
Meanwhile, Chen Hsin and Zhou Zheng were taking a smoke break off the set. They stood along the sidelines, listening to the conversation between several crew members and Xiao-Wang from the logistics department. “I heard that Wu Rong will be arriving this evening.” All of them were still very young; all of their faces lit up with eager anticipation at the news. “Work out a proper order among yourselves. Remember to take turns later on when you’re taking photos with him. No cutting queues!”
“Wu Rong’s coming later?” Chen Hsin asked casually, feigning indifference despite the displeasure roiling in his gut. Zhou Zheng glanced at his watch and replied, “He’ll come straight from the airport. This upcoming scene is a major one for him.”
Chen Hsin snorted. “Why do you need me here if you’re making this visit in preparation for his major scene?”
“You and Zhang Zhun will have several scenes here as well, later on in the film,” Zhou Zheng added in haste, realizing that his unwitting remark had ruffled Chen Hsin’s feathers. “The director intends for you to be present tomorrow as well for the actual shooting.”
Chen Hsin was about to reply when he suddenly caught Zhang Zhun glaring in his direction with a face that was as white as a sheet. They were about eight or nine meters apart. Standing in the distance between them were Chen Cheng-Sen and the girl from the costume department, as well as a Land Rover Evoque. In a split second, Zhang Zhun sprinted away from the Cayenne at lightning speed. Bracing himself with a perfect single handstand on the hood of the Evoque, Zhang Zhun flipped himself over the vehicle, his long legs – accentuated by his tailored trousers – scissoring through the air in sharp, clean arcs. Chen Hsin’s mind went blank. All words escaped him except for a single monosyllabic exclamation, “Damn!” That was hot! – Zhang Zhun was freaking hot!
Sailing through the air, Zhang Zhun dashed towards Chen Hsin, knocking Chen Cheng-Sen over in the process. Chen Hsin almost stretched out his arms to catch him, but Zhang Zhun gave him a hard shove in the chest instead. The force of Zhang Zhun’s push sent Chen Hsin falling backwards. After a few stumbling steps, Chen Hsin rammed into the door of the Buick behind him.
Everyone was stunned. All eyes stared at Zhang Zhun in shock, as if he had gone mad. His movements had been so fast that no one was able to make sense of them. Just then, the three workers overseeing the construction of the ceiling called out from above, “Everything’s fine now! We got it!”
Following the sound of the voice, everyone looked up in unison and finally saw the steel board hanging over Zhang Zhun’s head. It was 10 cm thick, and a cold gleam ran down its razor-sharp edges as it hung precariously in the air by a thin rope made out of hemp. Pulling on the rope, the workers slowly lifted the board back up the way it had fallen just moments ago.
Zhang Zhun panted heavily as his sweat soaked through his shirt – not the sweat from his sprint, but his cold sweat. Standing at the center of attention, he wished that the board had fallen all the way onto him instead. If it had crushed him on the spot, no one would care about the motivation behind his actions anymore. Chen Hsin was the only one he had pushed away. He did not care about Zhou Zheng or any of the film crew standing nearby. Even he himself had trouble believing it: he only had eyes for Chen Hsin, literally.
He could hear the chatter that had started all around him: “Wow that was some mad skills… freaking awesome… Chen Hsin was the only one he pushed… are they really so close that he’d act without caring for his own life?”
Overcome with shame, Zhang Zhun wished that he could crawl into a hole and pull it in after himself. Chen Hsin watched him from the side with heat in his eyes. He was about to move towards Zhang Zhun, his lips half-open as if he wanted to say something, when Zhou Zheng clamped a hand on his shoulder and stopped him. “Thank goodness it was a false alarm,” Zhou Zheng said. “Did you injure yourself, Zhang-laoshi?”
Zhang Zhun did not register the pain on the left side of his waist until now. He seemed to have sprained his waist. The problem lay with his trousers; they were too constrictive. “I’m fine,” he replied.
Chen Cheng-Sen got up with the help of the girl from the costume department. Perhaps he was still in shock, or perhaps he was still stunned by Zhang Zhun’s strong presence – the director addressed the younger man for the first time as ‘Zhang–laoshi’. “Is everything alright, Zhang-laoshi?” he asked. “Do you think this will affect your performance tomorrow?”
Zhang Zhun replied with certainty that it would not. At this, Chen Cheng-Sen shot a brief glance at Chen Hsin. The fleeting look did not escape Zhang Zhun’s notice, and his face promptly reddened. When the director instructed him to return to the Cayenne, however, Chen Hsin lost it. “He could be injured, whats-your-face! Are you even human?”
Although he noticed the slight limp in Zhang Zhun’s left leg, Chen Cheng-Sen continued blocking Chen Hsin’s way. He knew exactly how to deal with the younger man. “You’re really something, Chen-laoshi,” he began in a lowered voice tinged with mockery. “You must have left quite the impression last night. Why else would he willingly sacrifice his life just for you?”
Chen Hsin became subdued in an instant. “What are you trying to say? Nothing happened last night.”
“I figured,” Chen Cheng-Sen replied as he assumed a commiserating air. “His legs seem to be working fine today.”
Chen Hsin understood his insinuation in an instant. Blushing in embarrassment, he swore at the director, “F***! You’re disgusting, you know that?”
Not long after the episode, Wu Rong’s car pulled up at the set. The door of the white Infiniti opened with a kick from the inside, and a man leaped out. Dressed in a black vest and camouflage pants, sporting a clean buzz cut and silver shades on his face, he became the center of attention as soon as he appeared. The film crew surrounded him immediately, and he made his way onto the set amidst echoing cries of his name, “Wu-ge!”
Just like Zhang Zhun, Wu Rong was also trained in martial arts. Unlike Zhang Zhun, however, Wu Rong had been playing lead roles ever since his debut. He had starred in dozens of productions of varying scales over the years, and not once had he ever been assigned a supporting role.
“Zhun-er!”2 he called out lazily to Zhang Zhun from a distance. Chen Hsin heard his voice loud and clear. Wu Rong hailed from Beijing, and it showed in the way he pronounced Zhang Zhun’s name. The rhotic3 suffix he added to Zhang Zhun’s given name, typical of the Beijing dialect, colored the name with a sense of warm familiarity. It sounded so friendly and personal – so intimate.
Catching sight of Wu Rong, Zhang Zhun answered with an equally casual and familiar wave of his hand as he greeted the other man with a soft warmth in his voice, “Senior.” In reality, however, they were the same age. Zhang Zhun was even older than Wu Rong by a few months. After they both became actors, they started hanging out more often with each other. As they grew closer, Wu Rong began forcing Zhang Zhun to address him as his ‘senior’, on the grounds that Wu Rong had debuted several years ahead of him.
Chen Hsin felt his stomach seize and churn. Then, before his eyes, the two men walked up to each other and exchanged an affectionate hug. Seeming to have noticed Zhang Zhun’s sprain with a single glimpse, Wu Rong gave him a playful pinch on the waist. Slinging an arm around Zhang Zhun – his bigger build made this gesture seem rather natural – he pointed a finger at Chen Cheng-Sen. “What’s this, Director? Have you been bullying my junior?”
Chen Cheng-Sen immediately rushed to defend himself, gesticulating in haste and punctuating his sentences with respectful calls of ‘Wu-laoshi’. The banter went on for a long while. Wu Rong never removed his arm, and Zhang Zhun hung on to it as he laughed heartily at the goings-on between them. Looking on from the side, Chen Hsin felt as if he was seeing Zhang Zhun for the first time.
After the initial niceties were over, they went straight to business. All of them looked rather serious as Chen Cheng-Sen led the way to the car. Chen Hsin watched as Zhang Zhun climbed into the vehicle with a hand on his injury and settled into the driver’s seat. After the seat was put all the way down, Wu Rong got in and positioned himself above Zhang Zhun. The moment they met each other’s eyes, however, the two of them burst out laughing again. Wu Rong even buried his head in the crook of Zhang Zhun’s neck as he choked on his laughter, much like a husky wagging its tail in overexcitement.
Chen Hsin had nothing to do with the scene before him; he was truly an outsider. He lit a cigarette for himself; wisps of blue smoke rose from its glowing tip – as blue as the color of loneliness set aflame.
That night, unaware of his own actions, Chen Hsin headed towards Zhang Zhun’s room after dinner. Room 3705. He stood before the door for a moment before he pressed the doorbell. Xiao-Deng came to the door topless, and was momentarily stunned to find Chen Hsin standing outside. Laughter spilled out from the room. Chen Hsin entered, and he saw Zhang Zhun lying face-down on the bed, wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts. Wu Rong, similarly dressed, was straddling Zhang Zhun with his bare legs and kneading the left side of Zhang Zhun’s waist with his large hands.
“Hey, Chen Hsin!” Wu Rong looked up and jumped off the bed with a grin. He stretched out a hand covered in medicated massage oil and wine. “The director spent the afternoon walking us through the scene. Didn’t even think of introducing the two of us. This is the first time we’re working together, so I suppose I’ll be in your care. Let’s look out for each other, ’kay?”
Chen Hsin hesitated. Before he could make up his mind, however, Wu Rong pulled back his hand apologetically. “Dammit, hand’s a little oily. Next time! We’ll do it next time!” Then, he leaped back onto the bed to continue with his ministrations. But Zhang Zhun pulled up his shorts, his face tinted pink with shyness as he said, “Let’s stop here for today, Senior…”
“There’s still fifteen minutes to go,” Wu Rong replied with a glance at his watch. “Hurry up! Stop dilly-dallying!”
Ignoring Zhang Zhun’s protests, he pressed down on Zhang Zhun’s waist and resumed kneading. Burying his face in his sheets, Zhang Zhun hummed into the bed with every exertion from Wu Rong. Chen Hsin had no idea what kind of expression he was wearing right now as he watched on, his ears filled with the noise of Wu Rong’s incessant chatter, “My wife is a real fan of yours. Give me an autograph when you’re free, alright?”
- Prussian blue Cayenne: Prussian blue is a very rich, intense shade that leans towards an inky blue when mixed into paints. The description ‘Prussian blue’ is not found in any of the colors available for the Cayenne line. However, the ‘Moonlight Blue’ model is of a deep, inky hue that may be described as ‘Prussian blue’.
- Zhun-er: This is an example of a Chinese phonological process called the erhuayin (儿化音), through which the ‘-er’ sound is added to a noun as a diminutive suffix. The pronunciation of the noun is usually altered as a result of the addition, since the pronunciation of the ‘r’ sound results in gliding over the final sound in the syllable.
- This phonological process is commonly seen in the Northern varieties of Chinese, especially the Beijing dialect. The actual pronunciation of ‘Zhun-er’ would sound closer to ‘Zhunr’ as a result of the gliding.
- Additionally, it is common to use the ‘-er’ suffix in a person’s name as an expression of endearment or affection. This may often be seen in nicknames used by doting parents or between lovers.
- Finally, the ‘-er’ suffix used by Wu Rong is different from the ‘-er’ in Qin Xun-er’s name: Qin Xun-er uses ‘er’ as part of her proper name, whereas Wu Rong is altering the sound of Zhang Zhun’s name through the use of erhuayin.
- Rhoticity / rhotic sounds: Rhoticity is a linguistic term referring to the pronunciation of the /r/ sound.