Deep in the Act
First Published on Chaleuria
Although Chen Hsin wanted to go up to the other man, his reservations kept him in his seat. He watched as representatives from film production team guided Zhang Zhun across the room and introduced him to the media staff. With a light smile about his lips, Zhang Zhun greeted everyone politely as he shook hands with each of them, “How may I address you?”
Just as Chen Hsin had described, Zhang Zhun had a pleasant and calming presence. It was almost impossible to imagine him as an action actor with solid martial arts training. This man – the reporter realized, blushing a little – was the ‘small fry’ she had slighted, whose name she had not bothered to remember. When he came up to greet her and ask her for her surname, she could not help the note of shyness in her voice as she replied, “My surname is Wang.”1
Noting that she did not signal for him not to stand on ceremony,2 Zhang Zhun greeted her with conscientious care, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Wang.”
She had interviewed countless stars over the years, but no one had ever asked for her name before. She was only an entertainment reporter, nothing more than a moving microphone. Now, overwhelmed by Zhang Zhun’s gesture, she was suddenly at a loss for what to do. Following him with dazed eyes, she watched as he went up to Chen Hsin with an odd, evasive flicker in his gaze. “We’ve wrapped things up on my end,” she heard Zhang Zhun say, sounding almost bashful. She thought she might have sensed a hint of sweetness in his voice too, out of some sort of female intuition. “Since we’re filming the next scene in the area, the director told me to come look for you. We can make our way to the set together when you’re done.”
It was but a trivial matter. It could have been settled without any fuss on the phone, but Zhang Zhun had come in person instead of calling him. Taking the liberty to interpret the other man’s message as a mere excuse – a cover-up for the desire to see him – Chen Hsin broke into a wide, contented grin. The corners of his lips lifted uncontrollably. Like a teenage boy receiving his very first love letter, he looked so smug that it seemed he was practically begging to be punched in the face by anyone who saw him.
Watching from the side, the reporter witnessed how the chemistry between them seemed to transform Chen Hsin into a completely different person from before. “Chen-laoshi,” she cut in with a timely reminder, “shall we continue?” Although Chen Hsin said yes, he could no longer focus on the interview. His gaze kept wandering to Zhang Zhun, lingering as the other man paced along the wine cabinet. Her remaining questions were all met with cursory answers, and the interview came to a perfunctory end in less than ten minutes.
As soon as the interview was over, Chen Hsin took off his glasses and made a beeline for the wine cabinet. Zhang Zhun was examining a Johnnie Walker Red in his hands, his nape marked with a fresh row of hickeys right along the edge of his collar. Displeasure churned in Chen Hsin’s gut. He grabbed a Johnnie Walker Black off the high shelf and handed it to Zhang Zhun. “This one’s much better,” he insisted. Then, leaning close to the other man, he asked, “Is he gone?”
Despite knowing full well whom Chen Hsin was asking after, Zhang Zhun did not really want to answer the question. He could not help but feel as if he would be giving himself away, after a fashion, if he replied at all. Instead of speaking, he lowered his head in silence. Chen Hsin had no choice but to lean even closer. “I’ll go to your room tonight?”
“I… I’m busy this evening.” Zhang Zhun returned the wines to their shelves and turned away.
“With what?” Chen Hsin pressed, refusing to let up.
Zhang Zhun dodged the question. “Since you’re done here, we should get moving,” he said with a glance at his watch. “Everyone’s already waiting.”
“Tonight.” Chen Hsin grabbed him by the arm. “Wait for me tonight.”
Standing across the room, the reporter watched from afar as the actors whispered to each other. Behind her, members of the crew were gossiping about the two as they packed up: “Look at them. There’s something going on for sure between those dudes.”
“Stop spouting nonsense,” she tried to defend them. “It’s not them. They just happen to be acting in a film like that.”
“Have you forgotten how Chen Hsin treated you just now? He was making things real difficult for you, remember?” the crew reminded her in return. “Besides, look how inseparable they are. They’re all over each other. See that? See those bedroom eyes? Tell me that’s not a come-hither look right there!”
Chen Hsin, on the other hand, could not care less about how others perceived him. He changed out and packed up with great efficiency. Since the car that drove him to the club in the morning had long been called back to the hotel to send Wu Rong to the airport, the production team sent out another car to take him to the next filming site. But he refused to get in, insisting on walking over with Zhang Zhun instead. Yet, unlike Zhang Zhun, Chen Hsin was too valuable an asset to risk any amount of exposure in public. While Zhang Zhun was free to roam wherever he wanted, Chen Hsin could do no such thing. In the words of his managing company: “It is imperative that he be kept at a safe distance from the masses at all times.”
In the end, Zhang Zhun had no choice but to get into the car as well and sit down by Chen Hsin’s side in the backseat. They maintained a decorous distance at first. As soon as the car started up, however, Chen Hsin took out his phone and scooted closer. “Look at this,” he said, pressing his thigh flush against Zhang Zhun’s leg.
Thinking that Chen Hsin really had something to show him, Zhang Zhun looked over at the phone in the other man’s outstretched hand. But there was nothing to see; the screen was black. “Wha…?” Just as Zhang Zhun began to speak, Chen Hsin made a sneaky grab for the hand resting by his leg and trapped older man’s hand with his own.
Zhang Zhun’s first reaction was to glance at the driver. He heaved a sigh of relief when he saw the man staring straight ahead at the road before them. However, a new emotion assailed him in the very next moment and a blush promptly bloomed all over his face. Meanwhile, Chen Hsin continued with his antics. Still holding out his phone to Zhang Zhun, he asked without any sense of shame, “Isn’t this interesting?”
Zhang Zhun glared at Chen Hsin out of the reddened corners of his eyes, but the younger man remained undeterred. “Say,” he pressed, “is this interesting or not?”
“Yes… it is,” Zhang Zhun replied through gritted teeth, forcing his voice from the depths of his tightened throat. Pleased with his answer, Chen Hsin rubbed his thumb in contentment against Zhang Zhun’s palm. Then, forcing his fingers between the other man’s, he locked their hands together in a sweet, affectionate hold.
The film site was indeed nearby; it was only two streets away. The storefront was all done up by the time they arrived. A plated metal sign hung before its narrow door; printed on it was a single name, Blackpool. They met Zhou Zheng at the entrance, where he was overseeing the setup of barricade tape around the site. They were then led through the store to the director, who was in the midst of explaining the upcoming scene to a tall youth. The young man was very pretty. Dressed in a black Latin dance costume, he listened to the director’s briefing while a makeup artist spritzed his neck with body mist to create the illusion of sweat-drenched skin.
“Which film school is he from?” Chen Hsin asked, without giving it too much thought.
“None,” Zhou Zheng replied as he waved a makeup artist over for Chen Hsin. Lowering his voice, he added, “Just an extra. He’s actually gay though, and I heard he’s pretty well-known around here.”
Chen Hsin did not take the information to heart. He got into position with Zhang Zhun was soon as he was ready. Since the scene was only an interlude, they completed the filming with a single take. However, just as the team was about to wrap things up for the day, Chen Cheng-Sen decided to add an action sequence for Chen Hsin. While Zhang Zhun retired to the resting area, Chen Hsin waited with the pretty youth by the fence for the crew to finish setting up.
“I’m a real fan of yours,” the young extra piped up boldly. “My name’s Tommy.”
Chen Hsin lit a cigarette and threw him a sideways glance. “No guts to use your real name?”
Unaffected by the barbed question, Tommy broke into an alluring smile in response. “You’re all sweet and loving to that one over there, but you can’t bring yourself to be just a bit less frosty around me?” With a tilt of his chin at Zhang Zhun, who was sitting in a chair opposite them, the youth asked, “You nailed him already?”
Although Chen Hsin’s face remained unperturbed, his displeasure was evident in his voice. “What was that?”
“Just telling it like it is. The way you make eyes at each other can practically set sparks flying. Only an idiot wouldn’t be able to tell that you two are totally getting it on.” Somewhat spoilt by frequent praise and fawning attention, the young man had no sense of restraint at all. “How about me? What do you think?”
“I’m not one of your kind.”
The youth snorted. “Sure, he looks like a pretty nice type. One of those nice, easy f***s, I bet.”
Chen Hsin was glaring daggers at him now, his rage evident and barely suppressible. But the young man continued running his mouth, “He’s a ‘lady’ – all prim and proper before taking it up the ass. But if you f*** him hard enough, you’ll get yourself a real thirsty b**** in your sheets.”
At this, Chen Hsin snuffed out his cig and began shaking out his fists. The young extra glanced at him sideways with wary eyes. “What,” he taunted, “can’t stand someone talking about your precious babe? Wanna fight, big shot? I don’t think you’d dare…”
Chen Hsin cut him off with a sucker punch to his face, and the situation spun out of control in an instant. There was chaos everywhere. Voices were raised; some were hurling abuse while others were trying to stop the fight. Amidst the cacophony, Chen Cheng-Sen could be heard yelling at the crew, “Hurry! Get those cameras rolling. Focus, and action!”
- Asking for someone’s (sur)name: In Chinese culture, formal or unfamiliar acquaintances are addressed by their surnames as a form of courtesy. When being introduced to someone for the first time (especially in business and formal social settings), an individual will make inquiries about the other party’s surname instead of asking for the full name.
- Such queries may take either of the following forms:
- 请问您贵姓？(May I know what is your esteemed surname? / May I have the honor of knowing your esteemed surname?)
- 请问怎么称呼？(How may I address you?)
- Such queries may take either of the following forms:
- Signaling someone not to stand on ceremony: When responding a highly formal and polite query about one’s ‘esteemed’ surname, one may signal the other party not to stand on ceremony by indicating that it is unnecessary to consider one’s surname to be ‘esteemed’. Such an exchange usually takes the following form:
Individual A: 请问您贵姓？(May I know what is your esteemed surname?)
Individual B: 免贵姓王。(My non-esteemed surname is Wang.)
In the original text, Zhang Zhun asked about the reporter’s surname using the more formal variation of the query. However, the reporter (perhaps because she was too flustered) did not refer to her own surname as ‘non-esteemed’.