First Published on Chaleuria
The shoot should have been easy enough – it was only a simple photoset of a kiss between them – and yet, Chen Hsin ended up having no choice but to grab Zhang Zhun by the hand. Before this, the older man had always endured his touch with numb passivity. No matter how far Chen Hsin went with his advances, they were always met with rigid restraint. But now, Zhang Zhun’s actions were enlivened by a dash of youthful shyness: the closer Chen Hsin came towards him, the further he backed away from the younger man.
As they strained against the distance between them, each harboring hidden feelings of his own, everyone else in the studio began to sense the suggestive tension between them. Somewhat anxious, Chen Hsin rushed forward to claim the kiss before they could even get into position, only to have Zhang Zhun shrink away from his lips in apprehension. Yet, doubting his own reaction almost immediately, Zhang Zhun began stealing furtive glimpses at Chen Hsin. The flickering ambivalence in his eyes agitated Chen Hsin. Pulling on Zhang Zhun’s hand, Chen Hsin lunged forward once more. Over and over again, they went through the same motions like two macaws locked in an elaborate courtship dance, probing each other on a single tortoiseshell rack, their brilliant plumes raised and aflutter.
“Eh, what’s-your-name.” Sensing that something was not quite right, Wu Rong turned to Zhou Zheng and asked, “What’s going on between them?”
Zhou Zheng, however, was vague with his response, “Just trying to get in the mood, probably.”
“You two.” After spending a long time adjusting the focus on her camera, Zhu-jie finally spoke up, “You can romance each other to your hearts’ content after we wrap up the entire shoot. For now, all I need is a kiss – make it short and sweet, okay?”
Someone in her team of assistants laughed. Chen Hsin toughened up and latched onto Zhang Zhun’s lips in one fell swoop. But that was all he did: he held Zhang Zhun’s lips with his own and went no further. With dazed, wide-open eyes, Zhang Zhun peered up at Chen Hsin through the blurry haze before him; they were so close that everything between them had slipped out of focus. The flash went off, again and again, like a continuous stream of countless broken dreams refracting the light in those eyes – and in the waves of the vast black ocean beyond the light, his soul slowly lost itself.
“Ladies,” Zhu-jie called out again as she pressed the shutter, “can I get some action please? Are your tongues just for show?”
They were synchronized by a tacit connection between them. A mere lift in the corner of Chen Hsin’s lips was all it took for Zhang Zhun to part his lips on cue, obediently welcoming the other man into his moist, willing mouth. It was a connection forged through fifteen mornings and nights of absurd debauchery – a tacit understanding ingrained in them as they mindlessly rutted against each other in the blue light from the screen after every film they watched.
“F***…” Dumbfounded by the sight before him, Wu Rong pulled on Zhou Zheng’s sleeve and declared, “No way I’m going to be able to do that. That’s too darn intimate!”
Glancing sideways at Wu Rong, Zhou Zheng remarked to himself in silence: Wu-laoshi, there’s nothing for you to worry about; you’re getting ahead of yourself.
When Wu Rong’s turn came around, he realized that he had gone a little weak in the legs. Chen Hsin stepped out of the frame and brushed past him with an arrogant air. The heavy light fell on Zhang Zhun like the somber glow in an ancient cathedral. Zhang Zhun waited for him, the light illuminating half of his face while casting the other half into shadows, giving his smile an almost ephemeral quality.
The closer Wu Rong went up to Zhang Zhun, the more he felt the subtle tension in the air, as if he were being pulled into the depths of a bottomless abyss. He cleared his throat with an uneasy cough. Then, shrugging his shoulders, he took his spot facing Zhang Zhun.
“How do you want to do this, Senior?” Zhang Zhun asked, his gaze colored with a certain charm so amorous that he looked almost unlike himself. “I’ll go along with what you have in mind.”
It must be the light – Wu Rong thought – it was just the light playing tricks on his mind. “You know what, I’ll follow your lead instead.” He seemed a little nervous as he added, “I don’t have any experience with this kind of thing.”
Under Zhu-jie’s instructions, Xiao-Hai tucked a single bloom into the breast pocket on each of their jackets. Once she was done, Zhang Zhun took a step forward. The tips of his shoes rested against those of Wu Rong’s shoes. His white rose was pressed against Wu Rong’s chest, while Wu Rong’s red bloom pressed back against him.
“Senior, may I begin?” he asked, his breath warm against Wu Rong’s chin.
“Yeah, c’mon.” Wu Rong blushed, though the redness of his face escaped everyone’s notice in the strong yellow light. He straightened himself as his heart began to tingle and itch.
Standing a little on tiptoe, Zhang Zhun brushed his dampened lips against Wu Rong’s lips in a chaste, harmless kiss. The flash came on. As soon as the flash faded, Zhang Zhun pulled away. “Zhun-er,” Wu Rong piped up all of a sudden, “why are you being such a girl?”
“Ah?” Zhang Zhun was stunned. Wu Rong enveloped him with his arms and crushed their chests together. Then, twisting their faces at an angle, he began grinding their mouths together as well. Zhang Zhun’s fingers reflexively reached for Wu Rong’s collar, and the light illuminated their contorted knuckles as they clenched into the fabric. Zhu-jie approved of the performance very much. She rushed to capture the opportune moment, snapping away on her camera. “Good, Wu-laoshi. That’s very good – keep it up!”
Despite looking intense and brutal, however, the kiss was nothing but an elaborate act. In reality, Wu Rong had kept his tongue firmly tucked behind his teeth, not daring to move it at all. But things looked very different from the audience’s perspective. Chen Hsin began jeering from the sidelines, “You call yourself inexperienced? Wu-laoshi, you’re far too humble!”
Wu Rong could not stand his ways. Letting go of Zhang Zhun, he glared back at Chen Hsin with the full brunt of his imposing presence. The sharpness in his furrowed brow added a touch of baleful ferocity to his features. “Next time, I go first. F***ing save me the trouble of dealing with your spit!”
His expression was powerful and vivid. Chen Hsin was stunned by the bluntness of his attack, and even Zhu-jie could not resist snapping a few shots. In a far corner, her assistants began chattering amongst themselves, “Wow… that’s a true action star for you! Don’t you wish that you could beg him to take you under his wing?”
The atmosphere became awkward. Zhang Zhun was about to leave the shooting area when Zhu-jie stopped him. “Those flowers…” She grabbed a small camera off her work table. It had a wooden finish and looked a little aged. “The two of you, please stand side by side.”
At this, Zhang Zhun noticed the rose at his chest. It had been crushed against Wu Rong’s body during the abrupt kiss, and was now drooping listlessly on his jacket. Wu Rong’s bloom – crushed against his chest in return – was in the same state. There was no sexual imagery more fitting or perfect than this.
Although Zhang Zhun did not feel much embarrassment during the kiss, he was now overwhelmed with mortification. It was almost impossible for him to even lift his head. Pleased with the way he looked, Zhu-jie snapped away on her camera with great enthusiasm. “The mood is on point – there’s something illicit in the air. That’s right, Wu-laoshi, move in closer!”
When Zhang Zhun managed to look up at last, Chen Hsin’s face was the first thing he saw. He was smoking, and staring straight at Zhang Zhun – darkness roiling in his eyes – with a focus far more intense than that of the lens on Zhu-jie’s camera. He was jealous, and his jealousy blazed like a beacon. As soon as he noticed that Zhang Zhun had finally looked at him, Chen Hsin lost his temper. He snuffed out his cigarette and hollered, “Pass me the keys! I’ll wait in the car!”
“Hold on Chen-laoshi,” Zhou Zheng stopped him, “you still have another set to go!” As Chen Hsin turned to look at him in puzzlement, Zhou Zheng added, “Director’s orders: two sets, one to be shot topless.”
“Here’s what I think,” Zhu-jie chimed in as she cleaned her camera lens, “split into two sets and take turns. Wu Rong will be in set A, and Chen Hsin in set B. We’ll finish up set A first, while set B waits outside.” She looked at Wu Rong, then shifted her gaze to Chen Hsin, adding, “I don’t want a fight on my hands.”
“I have a question,” Wu Rong cut in, still having trouble wrapping his head around the idea, “why am I in set A?”
Zhu-jie was amused. “You said it yourself – you wanted to go first for this kind of thing.”
Words died in Wu Rong’s throat. Stiffening his neck, he stalked around in a couple of circles before giving in with a toss of his head. He flung away his jacket and undid his bowtie with a yank, revealing his tightly-stretched shirt. Turning to Zhang Zhun, Zhu-jie asked, “Do you need a changing room?”
Zhang Zhun responded with a shake of his head and began stripping as well. As martial artists, both of them shared the same habit of doing thirty to fifty push-ups before a photoshoot. The exercise helped enhance the lines of their muscles, and added a sensual beauty to their physiques by moistening their bodies with a sheen of sweat. The same effect showed on both of their torsos; Chen Hsin could not help but stare out of the corner of his eyes, hopelessly transfixed by the sight of Zhang Zhun’s flesh. Zhu-jie noticed. She called out to Xiao-Hai, “Take Chen-laoshi to the pantry for a break.”
Chen Hsin got her message. He whipped around and charged straight for the door on his own. As he opened the door, he looked back and saw Zhang Zhun standing together with Wu Rong, flesh against naked flesh. Then, he looked away, released his grip, and allowed the door to slam shut behind him.