First Published on Chaleuria
When Chen Hsin woke up in the morning, he received instructions about a new assignment from the production team. He was to attend an interview about the film, conducted later that day at a wine club located in the luxury commercial district along Huaihai Road. Although he was not scheduled for any filming today, he was unwilling to go. “This is rather sudden,” he complained, awkward and hesitant. “No one told me about this beforehand.”
Chen Cheng-Sen was rushing for his breakfast. He strode ahead of Chen Hsin as he replied, “It was a last-minute decision by the team.” Then, turning around, he pointed a warning finger at the actor. “Remember to toe the line. Whet their appetite all you want, but don’t give away anything of substance.”
After all his years in the entertainment industry, Chen Hsin knew exactly what he had to do. It had become second nature to him. He took a long, sullen drag on his cigarette. “Today… you’ll be continuing with that bedroom scene?”
The director picked up his pace. “Stop sticking your nose into other people’s work. Focus on your interview!”
Chen Hsin did not bother to catch up to the other man. He snuffed out his cig and began heading off in the opposite direction. He had only taken a couple of steps when he received a call from the production manager. “Chen-laoshi, you done with breakfast? We’ve already got a car waiting downstairs. Its plate number ends with F42.”
When the call ended, Chen Hsin swore as he put away his phone. Then, following the instructions to a T, he promptly took the elevator downstairs and found the car that had been prepared for him. As he climbed into the vehicle, he heard the driver and his assignment-supervisor talking about Wu Rong. His brow twitched. “What’s up with Wu Rong?”
The other two laughed it off. “Nothing much. We’re just chatting.”
The car was started up. “By the way,” Chen Hsin continued, stretching his back and sinking into the backseat, “is he leaving soon?”
“This afternoon,” the driver answered with a turn of the steering wheel. “I’ll be sending him to the airport.”
After driving for more than half an hour, they arrived at a small, inconspicuous store located on Huaihai Road. Chen Hsin entered the club with his assignment-supervisor, and found that the interview team had been waiting for him. The lighting and filming crew were already on standby, and the stylist was ready to get to work.
Quick greetings were exchanged on both sides. After a polite handshake with Chen Hsin, the young woman in charge of the interview cut to the chase. “Chen-laoshi, given the somewhat taboo nature of your film, we will be creating a rather luxurious and hedonistic look for you. The entire interview will also focus on the topic of homosexual desire. Is there anything else that you’d like to add before we begin?”
Chen Hsin had nothing to add; ever cooperative, he readily agreed with all the proposed arrangements. True to the young woman’s words, he re-emerged from the temporary dressing room looking the very image of opulent decadence. He was dressed in a velvet shirt, his finger accessorized with a zircon ring. His wavy hair was thoroughly mussed and set with gel. Sitting before the camera, he looked just like a postmodern incarnation of Jay Gatsby1 himself. As an allusion to Fang Chi’s character design in the film, he wore a pair of rimless glasses with a golden eyeglass chain. Detached on one end and draped casually across his shoulder, the chain glinted and dazzled under the light.
A female entertainment reporter sat down opposite Chen Hsin, microphone in hand. Right on cue, the filming lights came on and the camera lens zoomed into focus. “Good morning, Chen-laoshi,” the reporter began with her mechanical greetings as she scanned through the prepared script. “It’s been a while since we last met, and you seem handsomer than ever.”
“Thank you,” Chen Hsin replied with practiced, artificial politeness, “you’re too kind.”
“Let’s talk about your upcoming film. Its working title is Deep in the Act, am I right? From what I understand, it’s now in its production stage, following a grueling filming schedule. Rumor has it that its subject matter is very unconventional. How accurate are these speculations?”
“Unconventional?” Chen Hsin drawled, his voice laced with the same note of debauchery that pervaded his appearance. “To me, it’s simply a good film that explores the complexities of the human psyche. But I suppose it could be considered ‘unconventional’ because of its focus on male homosexual love, which can be a rather sensitive topic for some.”
“Do you mind giving us some specific details about the plot?”
“The filming’s still ongoing.” He propped his long, slender fingers against his temple. “Please look forward to its completion, everyone.”
“I’ve also heard that the film is very explicit. Are there any interesting experiences that you could share with us?”
Chen Hsin lowered his fingers and broke into an unintentional chuckle. “You’re pretty well-informed, aren’t you?” Licking his lips lightly, he assumed an air of feigned bashfulness as he continued, “That’s right, there were multiple scenes that had to be shot on closed sets. Necessary precautions were taken, of course. The director also said that additional shots would be filmed using body doubles in post-production. But there were still many challenges that really put my skills to the test. The need for improvisation was one, and rapport-building with my partner was another.”
“Speaking of your partner,” the reporter began flipping through her script, “your co-star in this film is…”
She kept turning the pages, but failed to find the name she needed no matter how hard she tried. Much to everyone’s surprise, Chen Hsin blew up at her. “Zhang Zhun,” he supplied. Then he pointed at the camera, signaling for a timeout, before sharply turning back to lambast the reporter. “Is this how you do your job? Turning up for an interview without even knowing the name of the lead actor?”
His questions, pointed and harsh, left the reporter feeling chagrined. It was true that she had not paid much attention to the name of the co-starring actor. After all, she never thought any star would care that much about another actor from the same film, much less someone who would not even be present at the interview. “Sorry, it’s ‘Zhang Zhun’ indeed,” she answered, vexed and red-faced. “It slipped my mind because I’ve never really seen the name before.”
Chen Hsin lifted an eyebrow. “Well, make sure it sticks this time.”
Their eyes met for a brief moment. She was the first to look away, signaling with her eyes for the camera to start rolling again. “Now, Chen-laoshi, will you please tell us more about your steamier scenes with Zhang Zhun-laoshi?”
Chen Hsin resumed his professional persona as soon as the red light on the camera blinked into life. “Do you want the whole truth? Or just a version of the truth?” Having livened up the mood with his deliberate humor, he broke into an easy, infectious laugh.
Following his lead, the reporter began laughing along. “The whole truth, of course!”
“Well… we kissed, hugged, and caressed each other,” he replied with a mischievous expression, “just like any ordinary couple.”
“Did it feel awkward at all?”
“Before filming began, we were given half a month to get used to each other and build rapport.” He drawled out his response lazily, as if he were somewhat embarrassed by his own revelations. “We lived in the same room for the entire period. Every day, we’d do almost everything together, including eating… and sleeping.”
“Wow!” The reporter assumed an excited expression. “It’s not uncommon for actors of gay films to fall too deep into character. Chen-laoshi, is this a point of concern for you?”
Chen Hsin’s eyes narrowed. He stared at her through the rose-tinted glow reflecting off his glasses. “No, it isn’t,” he returned with a gentlemanly smile. “We’re both professionals. It’s essential for us to know how to keep our bearings in and out of a film. I mean, we can’t change our sexual orientations just because of a film, can we?”
“What was it like working with Zhang Zhun-laoshi?”
“He…” Chen Hsin was distracted all of a sudden as he thought about Zhang Zhun. He recalled the watery gleam that was ever-present in the other man’s eyes, as well as the constant, tight press of his delicate lips. He remembered the older man’s quiet self-possession, and that hidden stubborn streak running contrary to his mild appearance.
“He’s very…” Chen Hsin was at a loss for words; he did not know what to say, or how to describe the other man. For once, he was tongue-tied. “He’s someone who… puts you at ease, and makes you want to spend more time by his side. There’s no stress or pressure when you’re with him. He’s the stillest of waters, calm and tranquil.” Chen Hsin began fiddling with his watch; his actions took on an edge of nervous unease now. “There’s a certain charm about him. An attractive allure – that’s right – from which there’s no escaping.”
There’s no escaping – Chen Hsin regretted his words as soon as they left his lips. As if sensing that something was amiss, the reporter lifted her eyes from the script in surprise. “You mean…”
“I mean, that’s how powerful his character is in the film,” Chen Hsin added, skilfully redirecting the conversation back into safe territory. “In the film, our characters go through a series of complex power struggles on a psychological level. It’s a romance with depth that truly makes it a thought-provoking film.”
“What are your thoughts about your other partner? What was it like working with the action star, Wu Rong?”
“Oh, him!” Chen Hsin let out a jovial laugh. “He’s an excellent actor. We’re pretty close. We often hang out together for drinks and karaoke…”
As he was speaking, the club door opened from the outside. The staff rushed to the entrance to tend to the situation. Somewhat distracted, Chen Hsin cast a reflexive glance in the direction of the commotion. The sun spilled through the deep-brown wooden doorway. There Zhang Zhun was, dressed in a blazer with embroidered cuffs and a tightly-buttoned shirt. His yuppie-style tie added a dash of bright color to his outfit while the gel in his hair gleamed luxuriously in the light. There he stood, exquisite and ephemeral, looking like an absolute dream.
Chen Hsin could not believe his eyes. He knew that the man before him was Gao Zhun, not Zhang Zhun. He began to fumble with his glasses. He pushed them up with awkward movements as he was suffused all of a sudden with a sense of longing, deep and desperate. He seemed to have become Fang Chi as he looked on, transfixed and besotted, his eyes flashing at once with irrepressible excitement and cautious restraint.
Lucky for him, all eyes were now focused on the man at the door. Even the reporter and camera crew were distracted by the unexpected visitor. No one noticed the change that had come over Chen Hsin. No one saw how he had blurred the lines and boundaries with his own transgressive desires. Only the camera continued to bear witness to this momentary outpouring of his deepest feelings. It kept rolling, committing every single trace of his raw emotions to its mechanical memory.
- Jay Gatsby: This is a reference to the titular character in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.