Quality Check: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria
Qin Xun-er was back on set, with cropped hair and a complete change in style. She seemed so radiant that all the girls began speculating if she had found herself a younger man.
Chen Hsin kept his distance. As the stylist worked on Qin Xun-er’s look for the upcoming scene, he retreated to a distant corner for a smoke by the corridor. He and Zhang Zhun had begun filming at different sites. This was the first day of their separation, and he was at a loss for words to describe how he felt. Listless and dispirited, he started harassing the director instead. “Say,” he flicked some cigarette ash onto the older man’s pants, “is it alright if I fake it with a stage kiss later on?”
Caught up in the process of editing his storyboard, Chen Cheng-Sen was in no mood to entertain the actor. At the mention of “stage kissing,” he raised his head and glared. “You’re fine doing it for real with another man, but you want to fake it with a woman?” The director snorted. “Look here, Mr. Best Actor. We’re filming a movie, not some TV series okay?”
Chen Hsin understood. What Chen Cheng-Sen said was nothing new to him; he had only asked the obvious because he was too agitated to know what else to say or do. “Is Zhou Zheng in charge… over there?” he tried to ask about Zhang Zhun’s team.
“Zhou Zheng’s not bad at running a set and picking extras, but his camerawork just doesn’t cut it. I’ll need to go clean up after him when we’re done here.” Chen Cheng-Sen put down his writing materials and clapped for attention. “Get into position now. Everyone on stand-by!”
Qin Xun-er sashayed up to Chen Hsin in a dress, looking sweet and feminine with her long wig, earth-toned eyeshadows, and milk-tea-colored manicure. “It’s been a while, Chen-laoshi.” Chen Hsin nodded in response as a form of greeting, and stubbed out his cigarette. As he was about to move into position, he felt a vibration in his pocket. He whipped out his phone at once and there it was, a WeChat notification from Zhang Zhun just as he had hoped.
The message contained a freshly-taken selfie – Zhang Zhun in full makeup and a tan suit, with a cashmere coat slung over his shoulders, and an Orion pin glinting in the coat’s lapel. The man even added a sweet touch by captioning the image: My outfit for the day.
There was a fire in Chen Hsin’s heart now. He enlarged the photo as much as possible. Then, sweeping his gaze over and over those smiling eyes, he asked: [Will I get to see you like this later?] Zhang Zhun’s answer came almost immediately in the form of a hammer emoji, and Chen Hsin broke into an insuppressible, lopsided grin, just as if he were trying to hide his joy but failed.
“Chen-laoshi, you’ve changed,” Qin Xun-er remarked all of a sudden. Chen Hsin glanced at her. “You used to be pretty full of yourself,” she continued, combing her fingers through her wig, “but you’ve become much more likable.”
“Why? ’Cause I’m more tactful now?”
“No, you look like you’re starving. It’s quite cute actually.” Qin Xun-er set her suggestive gaze on the man and leaned in, bit by bit. “Can’t take it anymore, can you, after spending all this time with only a man?”
Chen Hsin raised an eyebrow at the actress; he was indeed feeling a little desperate. “That obvious?”
“Mm-hm, you’re practically on fire.” Qin Xun-er pressed herself to Chen Hsin and gave him a light pinch on the cheek with her long nails. “Come look for me tonight? You’ve broken up with your girl anyway.”
Somewhat sickened, Chen Hsin laughed in annoyance as he brushed off her hand. He had other things to keep him busy tonight. “No, thanks.”
The cameras began rolling at the director’s command, and Zuo Linlin forced a kiss on Fang Chi on cue. It was a real kiss shot in extreme close-up, with tip-top performance from both actors: Qin Xun-er burned with irrepressible passion; Chen Hsin seemed bewildered as he dodged in panic. The scene passed in a single-take, and Chen Cheng-Sen could not help sighing as he took off his headset, “The two of you finally gave me a break for once!”
As the crew packed up for the day, Chen Hsin tried to follow the director to the other set, but Chen Cheng-Sen would not take him along. The production team had made a reservation at the KTV lounge to celebrate Qin Xun-er’s return, the older man said. Chen Hsin did not want to be there. “Go on my behalf,” Chen Cheng-Sen continued, slinging an arm around the actor’s shoulders. “Later on…” Just as the director was about to get to something important, the dispatch team cut in with an urgent reminder for him to hurry up. He patted Chen Hsin on the back. “I’ll be counting on you, buddy.”
What else could Chen Hsin say? He gave in, went downstairs, and got into a car with Qin Xun-er. In the midst of touching up her makeup during the drive, she observed with a shake of her head, “You must be getting your rocks off somewhere.” She tossed her short hair and pressed her bright red lips together. “Or else you’d have hooked up with me a long time ago.”
Chen Hsin shot her a sidelong glance. “I beg you,” he rubbed his forehead in resignation, “just cut it out already.”
After reaching the lounge, the group was led to a medium-sized room in a secluded corner. Since there were only seven or eight of them, Qin Xun-er was not too particular about the arrangement. Microphone in hand, she began belting out number after number, from “Alive”1 to “Three Thousand Years Later,”2 and from “Riding a White Horse”3 to “Mahoraga.”4 At last, when she was done singing, she passed the mic to Chen Hsin. The man refused to humor her. “You mean there isn’t a single song that’d make you want to sing your heart out?” she asked.
Taunted by the challenge in her question, Chen Hsin took up the microphone and selected “Almost Lover” from the menu. He had always wanted to give it a try, though he never had the courage to:
Your fingertips across my skin
The palm trees swaying in the wind
You sang me Spanish lullabies
The sweetest sadness in your eyes
So sad were the lyrics that Chen Hsin would never dare to attempt the song in Zhang Zhun’s presence. His voice filled the room, a little restrained, but laced with gentleness. He seemed to have trouble hitting the right note at the end of every line, however, and Qin Xun-er giggled behind a hand at how adorable he seemed.
Goodbye, my almost lover
Goodbye, my hopeless dream
I’m trying not to think about you
Can’t you just let me be?
So long, my luckless romance
My back is turned on you
Should’ve known you’d bring me heartache
Almost lovers always do…
As Chen Hsin reached the climax of the song, his voice cracked with desperation as if he had immersed himself too deeply in Fang Chi’s emotions. Just as Qin Xun-er had asked, he began pouring his heart out with reckless abandon. His pitching became less and less accurate, and he was completely out of tune by the time he hit the height of his own feelings. The accompanying staff exchanged helpless looks amongst themselves; though they had managed to put up a supportive front so far, all of them were now having a hard time trying to keep their faces straight.
Amidst the mounting awkwardness, the door opened, and Xiao-Wang entered the room with another man. No one paid any attention to the mysterious newcomer until he removed his cap and shades; only then did everyone realize in surprise that it was Wu Rong. Chen Hsin stopped singing. The room burst into excitement; regardless of sincerity, the staff crowded around the action star and greeted him with affection, “Rong-ge!”
Wu Rong had noticed Chen Hsin as soon as he stepped through the doorway; there the man was, putting on airs and singing some fancy English song for god knows why. Intentionally, he sat down in a spot far away from Chen Hsin, cursing and complaining all the while. “The hell Chen Cheng-Sen’s doing, pulling a friggin’ no-show when he’s promised to welcome me himself?!”
Qin Xun-er glanced in the direction of the commotion. Instead of going over, she pressed herself closer to Chen Hsin. “Here, have a drink. Take it as an apology from me.”
Irritation gnawed at Chen Hsin. He recalled his unfinished conversation with Chen Cheng-Sen, and realized that the older man must have wanted to give him a heads-up about Wu Rong’s arrival. “What for?”
The actress giggled, glass in hand. “I’ll never force you to sing again. It’s my fault, I’m sorry!” Shaking with laughter, she fell into Chen Hsin’s arms and snuggled against his chest.
Wu Rong saw the two from a distance. Though he was not close to Qin Xun-er, he had long heard stories about her various affairs. For some inexplicable reason that even he could not understand, he snatched up a bottle of liquor, strode up to the pair, and plonked himself down right between them. He refused to budge. Qin Xun-er tried to fight him for the seat, only to be bumped aside by his ass in no time at all.
- “Alive” by Sa Dingding: 《万物生》(萨顶顶)
- This is the titular track in folk singer Sa Dingding’s 2007 album, Alive. She sang in several languages on for this album, including Mandarin, Sanskrit, Standard Tibetan, the nearly extinct Laghu language.
- “Alive” was sung in two languages, Mandarin and Sanskrit.
- “Three Thousand Years Later” by Lee Heung-Kam & Shirley Kwan: 《三千年后》(李香琴 / 关淑怡)
- There are two versions of this song. The first version consists of pure narration by Lee Heung-Kam, released in her 2007 album, Twelve Faces of Women. The second version is sung by Shirley Kwan, but includes Lee’s narration as well.
- “Riding a White Horse” by Lala Hsu: 《身骑白马》(徐佳瑩) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzXOT26_Da8
- This song alludes to the legend of Xue Pinggui and Wang Baochuan. It is a soft pop adaptation of an experimental ballad by an almost identical name.
- The experimental ballad was written by Lala Hsu’s mentor, award-winning composer Su Tongda; it was a fusion piece between electropop and traditional Taiwanese opera.
- The soft pop variation was a collaboration between Su Tongda and Lala Hsu; the chorus of this song is sung in Taiwanese dialect, and retains elements of Taiwanese opera.
- “Mahoraga” by Winnie Hsin: 《摩呼罗迦》(辛晓琪)