First Published on Chaleuria
The equipment remained on standby as the two men made their way to the bedroom. They sat down side by side on the large bed. Before them stood a folding screen, printed with a pair of gilded white cranes – one stood on the edge of a cliff, about to take flight, while the other was in mid-flight, its neck arched gracefully in a backward glance.
“I don’t think I’ve ever talked to you before,” Zhang Zhun said quietly.
Chen Hsin shot him a sideways glance before answering with a smile, “We never had the chance.” Fishing out a pack of cigarettes, Chen Hsin asked, “Wanna smoke?”
Zhang Zhun turned to him with a nod. Chen Hsin lit up two sticks and passed one to Zhang Zhun before continuing, “I have some experience with this kind of thing.” Zhang Zhun took a drag on his cigarette and choked a little on its potent fumes. “I was… sixteen or seventeen at the time, I think, playing a minor supporting role in another one of Liu Jianwei’s films. One kiss scene and one sex scene.”
He paused. Zhang Zhun felt as if he should say something in response, but Chen Hsin was suddenly leaning in, propping his hands by Zhang Zhun’s sides. Staring intently at Zhang Zhun with a playful glint in his eyes – the perfect picture of a well-practiced model in a magazine spread – he suggested teasingly, “What’s the point of all this small talk? The way I see it, we should just get straight to business. Try a kiss and see how it feels.”
For a brief moment, Zhang Zhun felt his mind go blank. His hand froze next to his lips as he watched wisps of smoke rise from the end of his cigarette and flit across the surface of Chen Hsin’s pretty eyes.
“Let’s give it a go?” Slightly irritated by the smoke, Chen Hsin trained his eyes on the thin lips before him: an old man’s lips – he thought absently. Despite being two years his senior, Zhang Zhun was evidently incapable of “getting into the mood” as effortlessly as he did. As if he were fleeing from the thrall of Chen Hsin’s gaze, Zhang Zhun turned away with a blink of his eyes, mumbling under his breath, “It doesn’t have to be a kiss… a hug should do.”
“Director!” Chen Hsin called out to the man waiting on the other side of the folding screen, “Is it okay to stop at hugging?”
The director was furious as he yelled out his reply, “There are at least three sex scenes! Two in the nude! With full filming crew on set! You tell me if a hug is enough!”
Zhang Zhun’s face burned. He shot an accusatory glare at Chen Hsin, wordlessly berating him for provoking the director. Chen Hsin, however, was in high spirits; with a cigarette held loosely between his teeth and shoulders shaking with laughter, he broke into a charming lopsided grin.
Suddenly, Zhang Zhun was hit by the realization that the younger man might have been acting all along. He is terrifying good at what he does – Zhang Zhun thought, recalling the ease with which Chen Hsin wound him up and cut him loose, manipulating and amplifying his feelings at will in such a short time – if it’s with him, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to try a kiss… As Zhang Zhun began to relax, Chen Hsin put out his cigarette and shouted loudly, “We’re ready to go, Director!”
Zhang Zhun tensed up again in incredulous alarm. He grabbed Chen Hsin and mouthed in silent urgency, “You played me! You’re ready, but I’m not!”
Chen Hsin smirked roguishly in response and slung an arm around Zhang Zhun’s shoulder. He dragged the older man with him to the other side of the screen where the director and assistant director Zhou were smoking as they waited. The camera stood on standby, its lens freshly uncapped by the production manager. For reasons Zhang Zhun did not understand, he no longer felt as nervous as he did just moments ago. When Chen Hsin tried to pull him into an embrace from behind, Zhang Zhun’s body reacted naturally and struggled reflexively against his hold. Being taller than Zhang Zhun by half a head, Chen Hsin took advantage of their height difference to nestle his face against Zhang Zhun’s hair. “Stop twisting yourself into a knot. The camera’s rolling,” he whispered.
But there was no blinking red light to be seen on the camera. Zhang Zhun turned his head, intending to call Chen Hsin out on his lie, only to feel the fall of soft curls against his cheek as moist lips descended carelessly onto his eyelid. They lingered for a moment before pressing down firmly against the skin under them and sliding forcefully down the side of Zhang Zhun’s nose to latch onto the corner of his mouth.
“Action!” the director finally called out.
Dazed, Zhang Zhun stared unblinkingly as Chen Hsin lapped and sucked at his lips like a little animal. A tingling numbness spread from his throat to his chest. When he finally managed to gather his wits for a comeback, he was hit by the sensation of a large, warm hand creeping under the hem of his jacket.
“Nngh…” He inhaled sharply in surprise, but the sound that escaped him seemed to take on a different tone altogether. Startled, he began backing away instinctively, knocking over a coffee table in his way. The ashtray in which the director had disposed of his cigar crashed onto the floor, spilling its contents all over the carpet.
Leveraging upon the momentum from Zhang Zhun’s movement, Chen Hsin pushed until he had Zhang Zhun pinned against the French window. The feeling of being locked in another man’s arms filled Zhang Zhun with distress. Even as his discomfort became increasingly evident in his bloodshot eyes, the camera closed in relentlessly. With his rolled-up script in hand, the director barked out his order: “More!”
Both of them understood his meaning at once. Zhang Zhun stole a look at Chen Hsin; it was clear from the sweat and frown on his brow that he was not having an easy time either. The moment, fraught with tension and desire, intensified as a tongue swiped lightly across his lips and breached them with a single, resolute thrust. He closed his eyes, bearing the brunt of the intrusion in the dark. He tried imagining that the tongue belonged to Xie Danyi, but things were not the same – she never smelled of smoke, and her touch never burned with such fiery aggression.
Zhang Zhun was positively docile as he gave in to the kiss. His pliancy, untouched by a single trace of artifice, frustrated Chen Hsin to no end; the lack of acting from Zhang Zhun made it seem as if Chen Hsin had truly been kissing him wholeheartedly. Although Chen Hsin knew exactly how to make a kiss appear passionate and greedy, or messy and lustful, his techniques were entirely useless and unnecessary when acting with Zhang Zhun. Whatever he achieved through technical know-how, Zhang Zhun seemed to match naturally without any effort or awareness. A certain allure pervaded everything about him – the half-closed lids, the mussed hair, and the flush across his cheekbones.
No wonder he was chosen by the director, Chen Hsin thought. He was clearly born with that kind of flavor.
Sparks flew as the clash between Chen Hsin’s technical finesse and Zhang Zhun’s natural appeal intensified. Captivated by the mounting chemistry between them, the director watched with bated breath while the production manager seemed to have his eye glued to the viewfinder. The flustered assistant director, however, turned away and tried to conceal his embarrassment with his hand – but to no avail. The two men’s breathy moans followed him wherever he turned; there was no hiding from the low, suggestive sounds that spilled intermittently from their lips.
The kiss went on for a long time. Just as the director was about to end the take, Chen Hsin suddenly grabbed the thick curtain by the window and yanked it over their bodies, hiding both their figures from sight. In the deep red shadows, he finally pulled away from the kiss and rested his head against Zhang Zhun’s shoulder, thoroughly exhausted. Bodies flush against each other, they heard each other’s heartbeat loud and clear. Zhang Zhun rubbed his head unconsciously against Chen Hsin’s curls, staring helplessly into space like a patient reeling from the haze of feverish delirium.
Chen Hsin took a moment a catch his breath before reaching for Zhang Zhun’s face, cupping it as one would a thoroughly ripened fruit. After a brief look into each other’s eyes, Chen Hsin let go of the heavy velvet drapes and leaned in to kiss Zhang Zhun again. The fabric fell slowly across his back, swaying a little before finally coming to a full stop by the window. The director relaxed his grip on his script. As his script unfurled itself, he finally yelled, “Cut!”
Although both of them heard the order clearly, neither moved at the command. Lips and tongues parted little by little. Each felt the heat of the other’s breath on his face. Each wanted to take a look at the other, but both averted their eyes as if on cue. Chen Hsin gestured at Zhang Zhun, signaling that he could use the bathroom first. With his hand over his mouth, Zhang Zhun left the bedroom. As he was about to close the bathroom door, he heard the director asking Chen Hsin in excitement, “Chen-laoshi, just now… what were you doing behind the curtain?”
Uninterested in Chen Hsin’s answer, he shut the door with a thud, turned on the tap, and filled his ears with the sound of running water.
After freshening himself up, Zhang Zhun was greeted with praises and niceties. His performance seemed to have pleased the director very much. Chen Hsin, on the other hand, sat quietly on the couch after washing up, smoking his cigarette silently. He did not utter a single word as Zhang Zhun left; he did not even spare a passing glance. On the flight back to Guangzhou, Zhang Zhun considered the possibility that there might be more candidates to be tested after him. Since Chen Hsin showed no signs of leaving… in all probability, he would have to repeat everything he did to Zhang Zhun at least twice or thrice. He would flash the same smiles at other faces and breathe the same sweet nothings tantalizingly into other ears.
Soon after he stepped off the plane, he received a call from Xie Danyi. “Are you back? How did it go?”
“Okay, I guess…” he replied, flustered, as if stung by a guilty conscience. “I may not be the only one they’re considering. We’ll have to wait for the results.”
Xie Danyi laughed; there was a certain ease to her laughter. “No big deal. It’d be best if they picked someone else; I wouldn’t want men to be feeling you up all day.”
“Why would anyone be interested in an aging body like mine?” he answered with an involuntary chuckle.
“Don’t doubt the words of someone who’s already copped a feel!”
Zhang Zhun suddenly felt the urge to reach through the phone and tweak her little nose. “What would you like for dinner?”
“Croissants and borscht!”
“I’ll get them for you on the way home…” he answered as the noise in the arrival hall slowly drowned out his voice.