Sitting cross-legged on the couch, Tang Feng opened up a script. The first words he saw on the page were . It was the name for Director Li Wei’s new movie. Translated to Chinese, it would be along the lines of The Demon’s Alley.
“When a man comes to love another man, would he ask himself, ‘Was I born this way?’ Would he shake his head and ask, ‘Is it a sin to love another man even when I had stumbled upon this love unexpectedly?’ ”
When he was Fiennes, he had already read through the preliminary script for the film. Upon laying his eyes on the script for the second time, Tang Feng found he was still deeply moved as he read through the settings, the character backgrounds, and the dialogues.
It was a film set in the early 19th century that touched upon religion and other sensitive topics. More and more missionaries were gathering in the eastern lands that were gradually falling behind the rest of the world. An old priest living in a church took in a Chinese orphan and raised him as a son. He gave the child a name: Tang. It was a simple name, yet full of Chinese culture.
Deep down inside the old priest’s heart, perhaps he hoped the child who had no one to rely on would grow up strong like the prosperous Tang Dynasty of the past.
In a world that was wrought with turmoil and change like the one they lived in, only the strong would be able to walk until the end.
However, the story didn’t open in the mysterious eastern lands. As the days went by, Tang grew up, and the old priest passed away. Carrying the ashes of the old priest, Tang set out for the west. He headed for the old priest’s native country of England and laid his ashes to rest in the countryside monastery he had resided in before his journey to the east. There, Tang came across a young monk of the monastery.
“His hair was like the midday sunshine, more beautiful than the purest glittering gold. In spite of not having glanced upon any gemstones while growing up, Tang thought the monk’s sea blue eyes were prettier than all the gemstones in the world. To his eyes, both the monk’s hair and eyes were beautiful…” Tang Feng read under his breath, following the lines of description.
He continued reading, savoring every word and detail. He sat in his spot for the whole day, unexpectedly drawn in by the words. Gradually, daylight turned into darkness. The night breeze entered the study through the slight crack in the windows and the lamplight reflected off the glass as a blossom of warmth. Tang Feng continued reading with his head lowered, until he flipped to the last page.
He took a deep breath and closed the script with a heavy heart.
The ending made him want to sigh. Films having to do with same-sex relationships rarely had good endings. Moreover, this was a drama film that discussed matters like religion and the collision between eastern and western culture.
After finishing the script, Tang Feng was engulfed by an urge that was atypical of his calm and gentle personality. No matter what was going to happen and no matter what obstacles he was going to encounter, he was going to use his own method and understanding to bring his role to life. The minute the thought formulated inside his mind, it roared like thundering waves through his blood vessels. Tang Feng almost wanted to jump up and run to the studio to begin filming at once.
At the start of the 19th century, the continent had yet to pull completely away from the vast reaches of corrupted religious rule and turn secular. During that age, it was difficult to gather up the courage and stand out from the crowd.
To stand out meant death was right around the corner.
Tang and Chris could have lived as two normal monks in the monastery for the entirety of their lives. They were far away from the clamor of the world. War and change were distant matters that hardly affected them.
The small monastery was located beside the ocean. Living a life committed to God was hard, but doable after everything became a habit. What truly challenged their faith was the devil of temptation that came from inside their own hearts.
One of them was a foreigner who had left his homeland to bring the old priest home. He couldn’t return to his homeland; even if he did, there would be no one waiting for him. How could he appear so tranquil as he chanted the prayers to God day after day?
Could the void and loneliness in his heart be calmed by his faith to the Lord? Would he sway and fall into the temptation that was dressed as a handsome young monk? Would he walk step by step toward the abyss that was forbidden to be glanced upon by his faith?
As the story went on, the secret Tang shielded inside his heart was exposed and shed layer by layer like the mottled paint on the monastery’s walls. He didn’t leave his homeland because he had wanted to return the old priest’s ashes home.
He had committed a crime; a crime that no one could forgive.
He had been forced to leave, forced to bear the terror by himself, forced onto the path of a monk to keep his quiet for fifty years.
Between God and love, between faith and desire, what choices would these two monks make? That was what the film sought to explore.
After the end of the training class that was sponsored by two big entertainment agencies, a new batch of actors and singers entered the public’s eye.
A few trainees signed with Tian Chen Entertainment, while the rest signed with Su Entertainment. The media kept itself busy reporting on which new talent met with which director and which new singer was having which big producer collaborate on their new album. Everyone was walking down their own path and working diligently toward their dreams.
Quickly, people discovered that the once popular Tang Feng had disappeared.
After the broadcast of the final episode of Dream Lover, Tang Feng’s name stopped appearing in the news. It was like he had turned transparent and disappeared.
A few people starting spouting theories that Tang Feng had decided to start a relationship with Charles. If he had a lover who was as wealthy as Charles, he wouldn’t need to take the painstaking effort to film movies and make his own money. Moreover, Tang Feng didn’t have any works under his name. He wasn’t even a first or second-rate actor. He might as well serve as the bedside companion for a multi-millionaire.
These comments made Tang Feng’s fans extremely angry. Tang Feng had displayed his talent for all to see with his final performance in the training class. But most of the public would never fall in love with a celebrity just because of one performance.
When everybody aside from Tang Feng’s fans were starting to forget the man who had appeared and disappeared like a flash, a program on Channel 6 churned out a report on the famous director who had once won Best Director at an international film festival―Li Wei.
“Famous director Li Wei will be hosting a press conference in the United States tomorrow for his new film. The creative team behind the film will be present as well and showing their faces for the first time. Director Li Wei’s new film will touch upon religion and other sensitive topics. Upon its initial announcement, the film has drawn the curiosity of many in the industry. However, the film has been wrapped up in secrecy and the names of the cast have yet to be revealed.”
After the initial report, a few websites and other TV stations began revealing information on Director Li Wei’s new movie.
“The actor Director Li Wei had in mind for the lead role was to be the international star Fiennes Tang. Unfortunately, Fiennes had passed away suddenly due to health issues. The film had been put on hold for a long time due to this reason. Director Li Wei had spent around a year before he finally found someone to replace Fiennes. To our surprise, the actor who will be replacing the international star isn’t a name that we are all familiar with. In fact, the actor is a new talent who has never appeared in a film before―Tang Feng.”
“A few days ago, Tang Feng had received the highest award in the training class held by Tian Chen Entertainment and Su Entertainment. Additionally, the internationally recognized actor Leroy, who had once been Fiennes’ acting teacher, had given Tang Feng titles such as ‘The True Star of the New Generation’ and ‘Another Acting Genius.’ ”
“This is the first film of the year in which a Chinese actor will be undertaking the lead role in a Hollywood film. He is also the first Chinese actor who will be taking on the lead role as a new talent.”
The online discussion boards exploded as people noticed Tang Feng’s name in the casting list for Director Li Wei’s new movie Satan’s Alley. Some were happy for him and hoped that he could successfully make his way in Hollywood. Some also wondered whether the reason he participated in Dream Lover and True Star Training Class was to create hype for the film.
Most of the public highly anticipated Tang Feng’s performance in the film. Before filming even started, the media had already deemed Tang Feng as a young A-list actor.
While everyone was still making a fuss over the film in China, Tang Feng finally stepped onto his rightful path as an actor in the United States. It was his first movie, his first main role.
The press conference took place the day before filming began. The director and a few producers introduced the film’s basic premise to the media and revealed a few thoughts about the topics it involved.
The Q&A session followed right afterwards.
As the two main actors, Tang Feng and Gino sat right next to the director’s left. Taking into account that Tang Feng was a new actor, he had been placed beside Gino, a seat away from the director.
At the start of the Q&A session, most reporters aimed their questions at Gino. Compared to an unknown smalltime celebrity, a Hollywood actor who valued at fifteen million dollars was where the news was.
“Gino, can you tell us why you’ve decided to accept a role in Director Li Wei’s film? As we all know, you’ve never acted in a drama film before,” a reporter asked.
Gino was dressed in a plain black suit today. Paired with his blond hair and blue eyes, he still made a striking image. He smiled at the reporter and said, “Yup. Then you should also know that I’ve never been nominated for an award having to do with my acting skills. I’m very thankful that Director Li Wei has given me a chance to prove myself. Or rather, a chance for me to be nominated and even win an award.”
His answer sent the reporters into a fit of laughter.
“There are rumors that the film will contain some explicit scenes. Gino, would you be uncomfortable filming those scenes with another man?”
“Of course not!” Gino let out an exaggerated yell. He swung an arm around Tang Feng’s shoulders and pointed at him. “Look at him! What a beautiful man we have here!”
Tang Feng rolled his eyes timely, making the reporters laugh again.
Some reporters, especially ones from China, also had questions for Tang Feng. Most of them were quite normal, either “This is your first time collaborating with a famous director and actor. Are you nervous?” or “The film involves several sensitive topics, do you have any apprehensions going into filming?”
For a truly new actor, it might be difficult to answer those questions on the spot, but Tang Feng answered them in a simple and easy manner, not giving the press anything that could be used against him. When videos of the press conference reached China, someone immediately pointed that out. They praised Tang Feng for his craftiness and businesslike answers. His emotional intelligence was off the charts, no wonder why he was capable of capturing Charles’ heart.
There were quite a few knacks and tricks when it came to dealing with the media. Lu Tian Chen had appointed someone to teach Tang Feng those lessons, but the tutor ended up quitting out of shame of his own inferiority.
The reason was simple. The tutor was twenty-eight years old and had been at his job for only five years.
Tang Feng appeared young on the outside, but he had been in the industry for around twenty years. He had around twenty years of experience under his belt, exactly who was the tutor here?
After the press conference, there was a private party for the film crew. Besides everyone involved in the film, some others from the film circle were also attending the party. Director Li Wei had invited some friends over and a few Hollywood stars were also here to support the film. Everyone who had arrived were good friends of the film crew.
The party went according to Tang Feng’s expectations. The creative team and lead actors were invited onstage to give a speech. Tang Feng himself said a few words to commemorate the movie. Everyone then stood around eating, drinking, or conversing. Compared to the mechanical method of self-introductions, a light-hearted party where people could chat comfortably was much more helpful for people collaborating for the first time to learn more about each other. It was also a good opportunity for the actors to become familiar with the film crew, thus preventing future episodes of awkwardness.
Improving relations and broadening one’s social circle, those were the goals of the party.
The director had dragged Tang Feng with him and they were chatting together with the screenwriters behind the film. As Leroy had praised Tang Feng greatly for his performance in the training class, many directors had taken notice of him. Director Li Wei joked around saying that luckily he had good foresight to snag Tang Feng and drag him into his movie before Leroy had discovered the young actor
“Ah, Leroy. That old man’s personality and temper is impossible to deal with. I heard that the reason he had accepted Lu Tian Chen’s offer to be an instructor in the training class was because he wanted some side money. What a greedy, yet influential old fox!” A screenwriter who had worked with Leroy before downed a glass of beer. He smiled and cursed, “I’m guessing he just went in and told you a bunch of seemingly deep things before running off, right?”
“Can you guess where he went?” The screenwriter turned to Tang Feng.
“To the South Pole to feed penguins.”
Director Li Wei glanced at Tang Feng in shock. “Tang Feng, how did you know? He really did run off to the South Pole to feed penguins!”
Of course I know. Leroy has made it a habit to run off to the South Pole around this time of the year. Tang Feng smiled in response.
“Leroy is a strange person, but I think it comes with being a genius. Geniuses are all spoiled rotten by the public. What’s more, the public is quite willing to indulge him. You can count the number of people he’s personally acknowledged on one hand. Before you, there was only Fiennes.”
While chatting about Leroy, they somehow drifted to the topic of Fiennes Tang. Despite being Tang Feng, his soul was that of Fiennes’. It was his first time personally hearing what Hollywood thought of him. But as it had only been a little over six months since Fiennes passed away, everyone kept their remarks rather controlled. Tang Feng heard mostly positive comments.
“Where is Gino?” After talking for half an hour, Tang Feng noticed that the other lead actor had yet to show his face. Gino had said he would get a drink with him, but Tang Feng couldn’t even catch a shadow of the actor.
“He’s over there!” A crew member caught sight of Gino and pointed. The imposing blond actor was standing near a window behind Tang Feng.
Tang Feng turned around and immediately noticed Gino, who stood out greatly in the crowd. Standing beside Gino was a beautiful woman wearing a red bandage dress. Underneath the hazy light, the woman appeared especially sexy.
Tang Feng recognized her, but he had never spoken to her before. He knew she was called Lilith, one of the new generation of female celebrities in Hollywood. Lilith had a beautiful face and a sexy body, as expected of a glamorous celebrity. She was loved by the male audience and had once been selected as the 16th most beautiful woman in the country.
The handsome Gino and the alluring Lilith. It was a comfort to the eyes to see those two standing together.
“I’ve heard that Lilith is Gino’s girlfriend. Tang Feng, they haven’t openly announced their relationship to the public, so it’s best you keep it to yourself,” said the screenwriter who had been chatting with Tang Feng. He took another swig of beer. “You should know as well. Most idols are very cautious when they are in a relationship.”
Hollywood actors never lacked girlfriends. Similarly, Hollywood actresses had plenty of handsome millionaires by their sides. Frankly, someone in the entertainment industry wasn’t all that different from a normal person walking on the streets. They needed to eat, drink, and sleep as well. Only, the entertainment world was filled with all sorts of beautiful people. Being in constant contact with these people only increased the chances of falling into the grasp of temptation.
It was rare to come across someone like Fiennes who didn’t have any scandals to his name. For the most part, Tang Feng thought it was because everyone in the industry knew he had heart disease. If his heart were to start acting up while they were in bed together, it’d be troublesome. To avoid the inconvenience, everyone had kept their distance from him when it came to romantic matters.
As they chatted about Gino and Lilith, the two people in question came over to them. Naturally, they started introducing each other.
“Lilith, this is the Tang Feng I’ve mentioned. He’s very charming. Very soon, we’re going to become lovers, but don’t be jealous.” Gino laughed at his own joke; he’d always had a glib-tongue.
“Hello, it’s very nice to meet you. I really liked your performance in NA.” As they were strangers, Tang Feng chose a safe greeting. However, even with all his precautions, he couldn’t prevent getting the door slammed in his face.
Lilith clicked her tongue in distaste and said in irritation, “You like that movie? It’s complete trash to me, I hate it!” The movie in question was the one that had allowed her to rise to fame. It was also the only film she’d starred in that was well-known.
Tang Feng smiled at her. Young celebrities like Lilith were common, they all had the same problem: a rebellious and immature attitude.
“Lilith,” Gino said in a reproving tone.
“All right, I’ve already met your friend. I want a drink.” Lilith shoved Gino aside. She flipped the hair on her shoulder aside and strutted across to the bar on her five inch heels. She appeared like any other willful girl who was used to getting what she wanted in love.
Gino sighed. “Sorry, Tang Feng.”
“It’s okay. I think it’s best if you follow her.” Tang Feng wasn’t angry at all. He’d been called an “outdated old man” in his past life by a junior of his. But his fame never dropped, and the impolite kid ended up becoming a salesman instead.
The industry was filled with different kinds of people, but not every one of them was kind. If he became furious at every remark, then he’d have died numerous times already due to his heart acting up.
“I still want to chat with you and get a drink together.” Gino glanced at him with puppy-eyes.
“No, you should go take care of your girlfriend. That’s what a gentleman would do.” Tang Feng patted Gino’s shoulder and pushed him toward Lilith’s direction. Gino glanced back at him reluctantly and only stepped away after promising to invite Tang Feng out for lunch.
Tang Feng took a seat in one of the chairs. A crew member immediately leaned over and comforted him, “This new generation of celebrities think their place in the world is stable as long as they have one good movie under their name. Their tempers are horrible, they make too many demands, and they act all self-important. You’ll meet plenty of them in the future. Don’t worry about them, just be yourself.”
If Lilith really were Gino’s girlfriend, Tang Feng thought that he should have a talk with Gino about her while they were out for lunch.
The day after the press conference, the film crew held a ceremony to celebrate the start of filming in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Although the director was based in Hollywood, he had graduated with a directing degree from the Beijing Film Academy. He’d always followed the Chinese tradition when it came to important ceremonies. They’d had a roasted suckling pig prepared. Incense had also been lit for worship. Many foreigners unfamiliar with such traditions took photos of the event as souvenirs.
Gino didn’t appear for the first day of filming. Understandably, Gino didn’t have any scenes today so there wasn’t any reason for him to appear. Tang Feng was still a bit surprised; he’d thought Gino would come.
“I didn’t think we’d be able to eat suckling pig on the first day! Hahaha, we’re off to a good start!” As Tang Feng’s assistant and manager, Xiao Yu was also on-set.
“Don’t eat too much. Otherwise, you’ll have to start dieting,” Tang Feng teased.
Contrary to Xiao Yu’s expectations, the first day of filming didn’t pass successfully. Even though Tang Feng had complete confidence in his acting, he didn’t expect to come across a big obstacle on the first day.
T/N: In case you didn’t catch it in the overhead notes, here’s the link to the fictional trailer from Tropic Thunder that Tang Feng’s movie is based off of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4paGAvvFWRk
Proofreaders: CC Britannia, Lyrick