It was common to do several retakes of a scene during filming; a pass on the first try was rare. Even if you were a world-renowned movie star and the winner of several international film awards, there was no guarantee that you would pass on the first try. The best case scenario would be having a satisfactory cut after four to seven takes, the worst case would be taking the same scene more than ten times and still not obtain the director’s approval. In that situation, whether it were the actors or the director, everyone would slowly start to feel the pressure weigh down on them like a mountain.
“No, not like this. Let’s take it again from the start.” Wearing a baseball cap and sitting behind the monitors, the director shook his head. “Everyone take a ten-minute break.”
It was the eighth take of Tang Feng’s first scene. He still hadn’t passed.
Throughout Fiennes Tang’s decades of experience in the film industry, he’d also had moments when he’d needed more than eight takes to pass a scene. However, this was his first scene after his rebirth. Getting stuck in the mud right at the beginning made it difficult for Tang Feng to not feel frustrated and impatient. Not only that, he felt a scene like the one he was filming right now shouldn’t require seven or eight tries to pass.
The content of the scene was simple. At the start of the movie, Tang Feng’s role, the monk Tang, would walk down the streets of China while carrying the urn holding the old priest’s ashes. The skies above him were grey and grim, while the passersby walked around him cold and indifferent.
No one took notice of the lone monk. Dressed in a black monk habit with the hood covering his face, Tang appeared both restless and miserable.
“Your gaze is missing a genuine feeling of grief. For Tang, the old priest was his father, his friend, and the only existence he could rely on. Now that the old priest has suddenly passed away, Tang has not only lost a family member who had raised and educated him, but also his heart’s defense against the external world. Tang Feng, think of someone precious to you, and try to experience Tang’s feelings.” Director Li Wei wasn’t angry at Tang Feng. Rather than having an outburst, he took advantage of the break to explain the scene to the young actor.
The director left after his brief advice, giving Tang Feng some time to self-reflect.
A precious person? Genuine grief? Tang Feng sat alone and thought over the director’s words. Could he have completely misunderstood Tang’s character from the very beginning?
As Fiennes, he didn’t have many people whom he cared about. Leroy was one of them, but that old man was always telling him again and again that he had to keep an open mind. No matter the situation, he had to be open-minded and not be obsessively angry or heartbroken.
Adding on his self-cultivation as a result of his heart disease, Tang Feng had developed mild-mannered hobbies such as drinking tea and practicing tai chi. Due to his excessive broad-mindedness and dispassionate attitude, Tang Feng rarely felt excitement.
The monk in Satan’s Alley was a fragile and sensitive man. The old priest’s passing not only caused him grief, but also feelings of loss and indecision. As he walked down the crowded streets, his fear of the future and his helplessness were evident for all to see.
“Okay, let’s go again!” After ten minutes of break, the director called for everyone to continue filming.
Sitting behind the monitors, the director called out, “Three, two, one, action!”
The cameramen took their places behind the cameras. The script supervisor walked to the front with the clapperboard and shut the clapstick with a “clap” to mark the start of filming. “Scene one, take nine.”
Despite the bright sunshine, Tang Feng had to imagine that he belonged in a past era that was shrouded with a thick, dark fog. He had to walk from one end of the street to the other while carrying an old urn in his arms. It was a long continuous take that would be done with one camera, not giving him a single break in the middle. Even if he had walked the whole stretch of the road, a tiny mistake was enough for him to start all over again.
After shooting a music video in one continuous take for over three minutes in the training class, Tang Feng shouldn’t be having a hard time right now.
He walked forward step by step, mud and dirt underfoot. People parted like an opposing current around him, brushing against his shoulders and body as they walked in the opposite direction. He was the only one walking forward. When someone occasionally bumped into his shoulder, he would hide his face inside his hood like a startled deer and clutch the old priest’s ashes even closer to himself.
The road wasn’t long, but he felt as if he had been walking for decades. Every minute and every second, he could feel countless gazes leaving their marks upon his flesh and soul.
“Cut! Stop!” Halfway through the scene, the director called cut again. Tang Feng was surprised. He’d put his greatest effort into becoming Tang just now, but only a few minutes had passed before the director had called cut again. Was it still not good enough?
Tang Feng walked over to the monitors with the intention of seeing where he’d gone wrong. He could be overlooking his mistakes while acting, but he might find them from behind the camera.
“Tang Feng, come over here.” The director came over and took his arm, pulling him under the eaves of a nearby building. Tang Feng hadn’t even had a chance to analyze his own performance on film.
“Director, I apologize.” He’d been caught in a difficult situation on the first day of work. Not only did Tang Feng feel pressured to figure out his character, he also felt pressured from self-doubt and the trouble he was creating for the entire film crew.
If he couldn’t pass the first scene, then they couldn’t move onto the next step. Starting from the morning, three hours had already passed. Three hours of continuous filming, with an occasional ten or five minute break. Again. No good. Continue. Still no good. Tang Feng wasn’t the only one who felt pressured; since his performance had yet to gain the director’s approval, the film crew had to work nonstop, yet progress was at a standstill.
However, Tang Feng was still the one carrying the brunt of the pressure.
“Did you know? Only two or three Asian actors have truly made it in Hollywood. And among those two or three, only Fiennes Tang was able to compete on the same level as celebrities from Europe and America. Originally, we had been set on Fiennes as the lead for this film, but his sudden passing had put us on a major setback.” Standing in front of Tang Feng, the director sighed. He took off his baseball cap and patted down his short white hair.
A moment earlier, the director had been encouraging Tang Feng, now his intentions were completely different.
Tang Feng didn’t know how to respond. He was Fiennes, but he also wasn’t Fiennes anymore. He didn’t understand why the director had called cut time after time again. If he were still Fiennes, would he be in the same circumstances?
“The investors had been planning to use another famous Chinese celebrity, but I chose you in the end. Do you know why?” The director furrowed his brows. He looked sincerely at Tang Feng, who was still clad in the black monk habit.
With makeup highlighting his features, Tang Feng’s appearance was dazzling. The monk habit paired well with his classical features and couldn’t help but lead the mind astray. While worshipping him, one couldn’t help but also harbor dirty, impure thoughts against him.
Once ideas of the obscene emerge, it was like the opening of the floodgates. The key conflict of the entire film was extended from the identity and status of the characters. A member of the clergy was to be respected, but now they were also targets of desecration.
Monks were servants of God, but while believing in God, they also had to ward off the temptations of the heart.
It wasn’t the time to joke around, but Tang Feng wanted to ask whether the director had chosen him because an investor named Charles had greatly recommended him. He shook his head at the thought.
“The reason I chose you isn’t only because the investors were willing to take a risk and support you, but also because you possess the ability to captivate your audience. The world doesn’t lack a supply of good actors, but what is good acting, and how do we measure it? So far we still don’t have a clear answer.”
Tang Feng knew what the director truly wanted to say to him was coming up, so he earnestly continued to listen.
He knew he was no longer Fiennes, who had long established his name in the field. He was only Tang Feng, a new actor just starting out. Once a person had developed a famous reputation, it would be difficult for them to find anyone willing to give them honest criticism. Constrained by public pressure, most directors and movie critics would rarely voice out their real opinions. All they would do was pamper and shower him with praise. It really was easy to be spoiled rotten in that kind of environment. Right now, he shouldn’t be reminiscing about his golden past. He should take people’s suggestions seriously and strive to climb up another level, working to improve his acting and…charisma.
“Your acting is very good, but a little too good. I don’t know if you’ve understood my meaning. Let me give you an example. There are bar singers who can never record a single or sell an album, despite having a wonderful voice. It’s because they are missing that special and real quality that can only be found in themselves. I’m not saying that you’re laying it on too thick, but that your acting is too solid. It doesn’t have any cracks. It’s missing the freshness of new actors, and the fragility that belongs to Tang. A kind of fragility that makes the audience, and Chris, want to protect you and draw closer to you.” Patting Tang Feng’s shoulders firmly, the director continued, “Tang Feng, you have to make the audience hurt for you.”
“All right, why don’t you go back and think about what I’ve said. We’ll continue in the afternoon.” The director turned to the crew and announced that they were taking a two-hour lunch break.
Tang Feng thought of the director’s words as he went back alone to rest in the trailer provided by his agency.
A feeling of fragility?
“Tang Feng, are you okay? Respected directors always make high demands. Don’t be too hard on yourself.” Xiao Yu quickly followed after him.
“No, I’m fine. It’s nothing.” Tang Feng sat down on the couch and shook his head. “Xiao Yu, can you let me stay alone for a while?”
“Then I’ll bring you some food.”
“No, that’s fine. I want to sit quietly for a while. Thank you.”
Proofreaders: Nannyn, Lyrick