Deep in the Act
Quality Check: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria
Their relationship should not be known as love, Zhang Zhun thought. Love was too heavy and terrifying a word for them.
“Xiao-Zhang?” Noticing how distracted the actor was, Chen Cheng-Sen gave Zhang Zhun a pat on the shoulder. “The whole thing’s pretty much blown over now. Keep your emotions in check. Stay focused, and don’t let your mood affect your performance.”
The situation had indeed been defused with success. Thanks to the effective and timely intervention by Chen Hsin’s crisis management team, online opinion had determined that the incident was nothing but a publicity stunt designed by the production team to hype the film. Furthermore, perhaps because of Xie Danyi, Zhang Zhun’s public image became richer and more developed. His media presence grew, and his name even made it to the list of top trending topics.
“Look at it this way. Things worked out well for you in the end, I’d say,” Chen Cheng-Sen continued in all seriousness, “so don’t blame Chen Hsin for what happened. More importantly, don’t project any negative feelings onto your character.” He then turned to face Zhou Zheng and the rest. “We had to take the blame too, didn’t we? But the incident also raised the film’s profile, so let’s take it in our stride and regard it with more positivity, okay?”
The core creative team nodded in response around him. They were in the middle of a mid-term production meeting in room 3815, three days after the breakout of the homosexual scandal between the lead actors. “In terms of shooting, we’re past the two-thirds mark and moving into the last stretch of the film. After this…” As Chen Cheng-Sen was speaking, Chen Hsin arrived. His gaze homed in on Zhang Zhun as soon as he entered the room. Yet, oddly enough, all traces of lingering suggestiveness were gone from his eyes, and he soon looked away with awkward stiffness. Chen Cheng-Sen caught the subtle change and tipped his head to look at Zhang Zhun. The older actor seemed just as cold with his head bowed.
“I see someone’s gotten too comfortable staying at the Grand Hyatt. Can’t even bear to drag your ass over anymore, huh?” Chen Cheng-Sen chided under the guise of a good-natured joke. “Look how late you are!”
Chen Hsin’s tardiness had been intentional; he had meant to stagger the timings of his and Zhang Zhun’s arrivals. “I overslept. The past couple days were pure madness.”
“Still complaining, are you? If you hadn’t gone bonkers and gotten your ear pierced, none of that would’ve happened!” Chen Cheng-Sen fired back before returning his attention to the meeting at hand. “Alright,” he clapped his hands together, “now that everyone’s here, I have something to say.” He took the newest filming schedule from Zhou Zheng and announced, “I’m sure the pause in filming for the last two days must have made everyone soft and distracted. Y’all have one day to get back to form. Filming resumes the day after tomorrow!”
Someone cheered. While the shooting, lighting and costumes teams listened for further instructions from the director, Zhang Zhun’s phone began ringing. He tapped on the green button and answered the call with a warm, affectionate greeting, “Senior.”
On the other end, Wu Rong spoke up in a flippant drawl, “What the hell happened last night? It was almost midnight. Whatshisface…”
All of a sudden, in the midst of the filming discussion, Chen Hsin stood up and snatched the phone out of Zhang Zhun’s hand. In a bantering tone, he quipped, “Why are you always calling? Haven’t you got better things to do? Or are you just bumming around without any project at hand?” The room quietened down; everyone stopped to listen to the exchange, and the discussion only resumed after Chen Hsin ended the call a short while later. Discreet glances were exchanged among the staffers present, and even Chen Cheng-Sen could not resist asking out of curiosity, “Since when have you and Wu Rong become this… close?” Chen Hsin ignored the question and tossed the device back to Zhang Zhun without a word.
The meeting continued. After speaking to the respective teams in turns, Chen Cheng-Sen reached the lead actors at last. He directed his instructions to Zhang Zhun first. “From now on, there will be fewer scenes between you and Chen Hsin. Your two supporting actors will arrive and check in today. Hang around after this session’s over and prepare to meet them. Get to know your partners and build some rapport for your upcoming interactions.” Although Chen Hsin had remained rather indifferent so far, he lifted his moody gaze with a twitch of his eyes at the mention of ‘supporting actors.’ Just as he was about to speak, however, Chen Cheng-Sen cut in with a warning, “Qin Xun-er will be back soon as well. Don’t you start creating trouble for everyone.” Chen Hsin backed down, signaling his half-hearted deference by crossing his legs in silence.
Forty-five minutes later, the short meeting was over. As the crowd dispersed, Chen Hsin dragged his feet and hung back until the room was almost empty. Chen Cheng-Sen had left to use the washroom. Zhou Zheng and Xiao-Wang remained, one checking the filming schedule while the other busied himself playing his mobile game. Chen Hsin started moving towards Zhang Zhun, and the older actor darted panicked looks around as he approached. The thrill of their illicit affair rushed through Chen Hsin. Mimicking his lover, he surveyed their surroundings with caution as he drew closer and closer to the other man. Then, pressing his body to Zhang Zhun, he whispered, “Give me the keycard to your room.”
Blushing, Zhang Zhun did as he was told. “What… do you want it for?” he asked, despite more or less knowing the answer.
“Just give it here,” Chen Hsin replied, plucking the card from Zhang Zhun’s fingers, and slipped the piece of plastic into his pocket just as Zhou Zheng looked up from the document in his hands. “I’ll get going, Zhou-ge!” He bade the assistant director goodbye in a most natural manner and, with a furtive turn of his head, winked at Zhang Zhun before sauntering out of the room.
Zhang Zhun returned at dusk, as night was just beginning to fall. He pressed the doorbell to his own room, and the door soon opened from the inside. All was dark beyond the doorway except for the dim glow from the bedside lamp. He felt a little unwilling to enter, but Chen Hsin reached out from the shadows and hugged him. “You’ve seen them?”
Averting his eyes and keeping his lips out of Chen Hsin’s reach, Zhang Zhun circled a little around the younger man. With a swerve of his body, he caught sight of the two bottles standing on the table: one was a bottle of wine, while the other looked very much like a bottle of olive oil. “They’re not much to look at, compared to you,” Zhang Zhun replied, but Chen Hsin remained silent as he tucked his chin against the older man’s shoulder. There was a touch of sullenness to his manner, like a suggestive hint of jealousy. Ruffling the hair on the back of Chen Hsin’s head, Zhang Zhun added with some hesitation, “My scenes with them… aren’t like that. They’re not like the ones with you.”
At this, Chen Hsin released the older man. He walked over to the table, filled two glasses after uncorking the wine, and gave one to Zhang Zhun before turning to fiddle with his phone. The sultry notes of Luz Casal’s “Piensa En Mi” filled the air after a short pause.1 “Dance with me,” Chen Hsin said as he clinked their glasses together and placed his free hand on Zhang Zhun’s waist. He drew the man close. “To be honest, this is my favorite scene in the screenplay. Unfortunately, Wu Rong’s the one who gets to share the scene with you.”
“Don’t,” Zhang Zhun seemed a little resistant, “don’t treat me like one of your girls.” Despite the rejection on his lips, his body melded itself to Chen Hsin’s chest, docile and willing.
“You’ve shot this scene already?” Chen Hsin murmured his question into the older man’s ear.
“Mn.” Why was he feeling all tipsy even though he had not drunk a single drop? Gently swaying along with Chen Hsin, Zhang Zhun elaborated, “That day, when you had that interview at the bar.”i
Chen Hsin nodded and kissed his lover’s cheek while eyeing the man’s glass. “Why aren’t you drinking?”
Zhang Zhun’s lashes trembled. “Can we… not do it?”
“I won’t come inside, I promise.” Tightening the embrace, Chen Hsin kneaded Zhang Zhun’s flesh through the fabric of his shirt. “You have my word.”
Zhang Zhun did not respond. When Chen Hsin tried to raise his glass to Zhang Zhun’s lips, the older man averted his head, muttering, “What do you take me for? A gullible young thing who doesn’t know any better?” Chortling, Chen Hsin turned Zhang Zhun’s face towards him and peppered the man’s lips with soft, flirty pecks. After kissing his lover to his heart’s content, Chen Hsin started to speak – only to be cut off by an unexpected question from Zhang Zhun, “No regrets?”
“What regrets?” Chen Hsin asked in return, a playful grin still on his face.
“If we don’t go that far, we…” Zhang Zhun faltered, seemingly at a loss for words. “We can still pretend we’re just really good buddies. It’s not uncommon, you know…” He lifted his eyes and peered up at Chen Hsin with an indescribable gaze. “Close friends… do give one another a helping hand, from time to time.”
Chen Hsin’s expression changed. His movements stilled. “Or else?”
“If we go all the way…” Zhang Zhun dropped his gaze, pausing, as if an unknown fear had stifled the words in his throat. He wilted in despair, anguished and defeated. “There will be no turning back.” There would be no escaping the damning fact of their perversion – of their undeniable homosexuality – and no excuses or attempts at self-deception would ever explain away their degenerate, depraved desires. Chen Hsin was speechless for a very long time. In the stricken silence, the voice on his phone continued crooning:
Think of me when you suffer
Think of me, too, when you cry
Take my life when you want to
I don’t want it at all
I am nothing without you…2
Chen Hsin’s face fell; his youthful features, marred by shock and confusion, began to twist in distress. He loosened his grip on Zhang Zhun’s shoulder and backed away without realizing what he was doing. Zhang Zhun braced himself. He was ready – ready to put on a perfect smile at any moment for the man before him, regardless of whether he stayed or left.
- “Piensa En Mi” by Luz Casal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS04M9Mz26E
- This translation of the chorus is primarily derived from the 2 versions shared on Lyrics Translate, and slightly modified with reference to various Spanish-English translation sites as well as the Chinese translation used in the original text.
- Zhang Zhun is referring to the interview that took place in Chapter 25.1.
Hi all! The chapter you’ve been waiting for (?) is finally here. I’m quite happy that the chapter release coincides with 2 pretty memorable events. Firstly, Taiwan (my homeland, as well as CH’s) has just become the first Asian territory to legalise gay marriage last weekend. Secondly, today is May 20th, or “I-Love-You Day” in China. [FYI: The Chinese pronunciation of the number 5-2-0 (wu-er-ling) is similar to the pronunciation of ‘I love you’ (wo-ai-ni).] To embrace the spirit of love, both segments of this chapter are released on the same day, so please read on!