The mountain was actually much tougher than Sungjae expected. Sungjae’s estimations on its difficulty based on its looks, was off by a large amount. The roads were rough without any signs of human passage. If he was wearing shoes instead of trainers, he would have gotten tired easily.
“This is what’s good about going to a mountain.”
Seeing Moonjoong climb the mountain without a hitch, Sungjae was flabbergasted. An elderly man nearing his seventies was much more energetic than him. Just like a professional mountain climber that had conquered numerous mountains, Moonjoong walked up the mountain in steady steps. Sungjae clenched his teeth as he tried to follow. He didn’t want to get left behind. Although he was panting heavily, he forced himself forward. This was a different kind of tiring than when running on a treadmill machine. He felt like he was lifting himself up the mountain with each step.
“I fell in love with this place when I came here to check out the place last time.”
“I-is that so?”
“Is it hard?”
Sungjae wiped off his forehead with the back of his hand.
“Endure just a little more, we’re almost there.”
This place is quite slippery - added Moonjoong as he pointed at a tree root. Sungjae took off the cheque-patterned shirt. When his sweat was exposed to the wind, he felt a little better.
At some point, he stopped questioning why he had to climb this mountain. He just climbed without thinking. He was watching Moonjoong’s back as he did so. That continued for ten minutes when, surprisingly, his breath calmed down and he started looking around at the scenery. Purple-colored flowers filled his vision. Sungjae wondered when he arrived at such a place. He looked back. The mountain flowers had blossomed at the bottom as well. Even though there were flowers all the way since the start, he kept climbing without even noticing them.
Hearing that voice, Sungjae turned back around. Moonjoong was waving at him for him to come from the top. He heaved out a deep breath before climbing up to the top.
Soon, he was standing next to Moonjoong.
Unlike their way up to the top, the peak of the mountain didn’t have any trees that blocked out the skies. Thanks to that, he could see much further. After looking at the clear sky for a moment, he threw his gaze at the village afar. He thought that it would be a countryside village with houses built very randomly, but now that he was looking at it from afar, he saw that it was actually very well spaced and well planned. When he had a look closer to the mountain, he saw the school, where they started off. The empty school field was now filled with more people.
“Please excuse us,” said Moonjoong suddenly from behind him.
Sungjae turned around wondering what it was. He saw a pair of graves. Only then did Sungjae understand why there were no trees around. It was a grave. Sungjae also clasped his hands and paid his respects.
“Do you know why people like mountains?”
“From what I heard, it’s because they can clear their minds….”
Moonjoong smiled and nodded.
“People filled with worries climb mountains like this. It’s an escape in a sense. It doesn’t solve the problem they’re facing, but they can stop worrying. Where do you get the luxury to worry when you are busy? Don’t you think?”
Moonjoong sat down and tapped the place next to him. Sungjae immediately sat down.
“Becoming an entertainer at an early age is a good thing, but is also extremely exhausting. I don’t know much about idols since I’m at the age I am, but I do know that people like you receive a lot of love.”
“Love, you say…,” Sungjae said.
He was aware that he was receiving a lot of attention from the public. After all, wherever he went, there would either be a camera or a hand that wanted a handshake from him. However, was that love?
“I don’t really know if I’m receiving love or not.”
“Why do you think that?”
“At first, I thought that it was love. But recently, I’m a little scared. When there were a few fans, they always said good things to us. Do your best, we’re cheering for you, congratulations, and the like. But after we became popular, we started receiving more bad words than good. I know, there isn’t an entertainer that is loved by everyone. I was prepared to face it, but since it’s getting stronger by the day, I flinch back. A while ago, our oldest member almost ended up drinking poison. After that, the public, which should be a target of appreciation, became more scary to me.”
After that incident, Sungjae started looking at the public not as a target of appreciation, but a tool he could use. How was he supposed to love a fan that gave him poison just because he didn’t reply to a fan letter? If such a thing was called love, then misery might as well be charity.
“You sound like you have more to say, so go ahead. I’m the only one listening,” Moonjoong spoke as he looked into the distance.
Sungjae bit his lips before speaking what was in his mind: that the public had no interest in acting prowess but just wanted popular people.
“There’s a person I used to do acting with when I was young. He was someone that was really good at acting, and no one around him doubted that he would become successful. However, when I met him on a coincidence one day, he was barely getting by as an extra that couldn’t even leave his name on the ending credits. It was then I felt that people don’t want to see actors that are good at acting, but that they want to see the people they like do acting.”
Sungjae smiled bitterly as he remembered that moment.
“Honestly speaking, I was happy when I met him. I became successful. I, as an idol, had the role of a minor character with a lot of appearance. I felt superior just based on the fact that I got to a place he couldn’t. But at the same time, I felt very empty. After all, no matter how much reputation I gain as an actor, it is all thanks to the fact that I am Ahn Sungjae the idol.”
Sungjae then looked down at the ground.
“That’s why I tried the audition for this movie. It was in order to escape that bias. When I received the notification that I passed, I had faith. But a while ago, I found out that my cast in the movie was already decided beforehand due to a deal between companies. In a few days, there will be news everywhere about how I, Ahn Sungjae, was cast in a movie through my own skills. When I found out, I couldn’t even lift my head due to embarrassment, but a few days later, I felt better. At that time, I became scared again; not of the public, but of myself. So this is how I become more and more dull; this is how I make a tool of myself. I even ended up thinking that my skills doesn’t matter and it will work as long as I appear on camera…,” after saying those words, Sungjae became quiet.
He had spoken too much because he was caught up in the mood.
“An actor cannot be free from money. No, it’s not just actors. Who in this world can be free from money? We can just be thankful that people like us and that they are looking for us.”
“...Aren’t you angry about that, sir?”
“Why would I?”
“Because a kid like me participated in this movie, even though there must be better people than me out there.”
Hearing those words, Moonjoong started chuckling.
“Do not underevaluate yourself too much.”
“Do you know the producer of this movie?”
“If I am correct, it is president Lee Junmin.”
“Yes, he’s in charge of most things. Casting the actors is up to him as well. And he’s not a pathetic person that puts a lacking actor in his work just because of money. If you were chosen, then it’s because you have the skills that fit your role. Money is secondary. He’s not lenient enough to pick people without the proper skills.”
“Also, it looks like you became timid because the actors didn’t greet you properly, but that’s not because you’re an idol.”
“It’s because they’re tired.”
“B-because they’re tired?”
“They drank late into the night. You came in just at the moment they were going over the lines to exercise their necks a bit. It’s not that they had any malice towards you. It’s actually because they didn’t have the energy to greet you properly.
“Then the cough….”
“That guy must’ve had a sore throat.”
Moonjoong patted Sungjae’s shoulders as he stood up.
“The people gathered over there are all foolish people. Most of them came to the acting industry despite the instability of their jobs just because they liked acting. Because they’re such people, they will not look down on people that are doing acting with them without reason. In fact, they will cheer for those people. Just like me.”
Moonjoong started climbing down the mountain in the same leisurely manner that he climbed up. Sungjae stood up, feeling complicated. At that moment, a rather chilly voice entered his ears.
“But conversely, if you do not show your skills during the real deal, then you’ll receive the cold shoulder immediately. That’s why I ask of you to please, do well. These people are the best of the best. If your resolve is something that shakes just because of a few glares, you’ll have a hard time here. Even people younger than you grind their blades here. If you lack the skills, then you will lose your role. I’ll be the one who will say that I can’t work with you.”
Moonjoong, who seemed like a kind man until now, spoke such sharp words. Sungjae felt a chill behind his back.
“Childish whines will only be accepted on the first day. This isn’t a place for amateurs after all. We’re here to show results.”
Sungjae gulped. He was reminded of the words that his president said to him before he came here. That he could not make a mistake this time. Although she said such words all the time, from how serious she sounded this time, it was likely that she didn’t have the final say around here. He would lose his role if he wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t a warning, but a declaration.
“If you have the luxury to think about how people look at you and worry about your position here, then you might want to think about the fundamentals of acting again. First up, you should try fixing that mask on your face and be honest with your emotions. If you are truly an actor, it won’t take long for you to realize how and fix yourself. If not, then the only words you’ll hear at the set today will be ‘again’ or ‘edit him out’.”
The person in front of him was not an elderly that listened to a child’s worries, but someone who was responsible for his work. Sungjae realized just how pathetic and meager his worries were. The public? Popularity? That was secondary. Right now, he had to put everything into his acting. Moonjoong was teaching him that the filming wasn’t lax enough for him to mind about other things.
“I don’t want this movie to do badly.”
Sungjae nodded heavily.
“Then let’s go down.”
Moonjoong returned to his kind self again.
* * *
“Senior, did you scold that fellow?” Joonggeun asked as he pointed at Sungjae from afar.
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, it’s because that kid looked like his mind was boggled with unnecessary thoughts, but his eyes look clear now.”
Hearing Joonggeun’s words, Moonjoong chuckled.
“I just said a few things to him so that he could bring out his skills.”
“I knew it. How did you notice what I was thinking and do the thing that I wanted to do? I love and respect you, senior.”
Joonggeun then stuck close to him.
“Why don’t you mature a bit if you’re at the age you are? You’re no kid.”
“Again with that! Ah, rather than that, that kid, uhm so… Maru, Han Maru, that’s it. Did he go home?”
“Rude brat. I was planning to compliment him since he did good, but he ran without even greeting me?”
“How was he supposed to greet someone who’s drunk and sleeping? He came in the morning, but I told him to go.”
“But why do you need Maru?”
“Oh, a producer the camera director is acquainted with is starting a drama. They’re looking for high school students, and I was planning to recommend him.”
“You? Recommend someone? What’s up with you? You hated doing that because the producers don’t like such things.”
“I should have him be indebted to me when I have the chance to, so that I can use him later when I want. Consider it an investment in a promising youth. And also, I don’t think anyone would dislike a guy like him.”
“He’s under Junmin-hyung, right?”
“Looks like I should give him a call later. Rather than that, he’s supposed to be the producer of the movie, but he’s not shown himself even once. Isn’t a producer supposed to do what I was just doing?”
“You won’t get anything from saying that to me.”
“I’m saying that we should talk bad about him together. I know you know what I mean.”
Moonjoong told the chuckling Joonggeun Maru’s phone number. An opportunity like this would ease Maru’s growth into a big actor.
‘Experiencing many things will widen your horizon.’
Moonjoong made a joyous smile as he thought about Maru and his calm expression.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Woot! New work for Maru!