“At heart, we aren’t a company that focuses on actors. If we only had actors, we wouldn’t need a building this big in the first place.”
She followed Ahyoung down to the lobby on the first floor. Although she had walked past this place when she was heading to the president’s office on the 4th floor, she didn’t take a closer look because of her nervousness.
“The lobby is the face of a company. It’s a place where artists play around, so you know, it’d be somewhat iffy if it looks boring, right?”
The people walking past the lobby greeted Ahyoung. Among them, one even approached her and gave her a hi-five. She was slightly impressed by the fact that the atmosphere wasn’t overbearing here. Some people that she encountered while visiting shooting locations were filled with authoritative pride, but none of that could be seen here. The employees didn’t have any difficulties greeting the president. She was given a fresh shock.
“Our building has separate facilities from the 1st floor to the 5th floor. The first floor is, as you can see, a space for guests. The restaurant is also on this floor. We have great food, you know? Let’s go eat together later.”
“The 2nd floor is filled with practice rooms. There are large ones and small ones. The 3rd floor has musical equipment, and it’s where most of the mixing and recording happens at our company. Though, the ones with their personal studios use their own. People who can’t afford them come here to do it. The 4th floor is the general office. It’s quiet and cozy. It might sound strange coming from me, but our company has really good welfare you know? If you feel like it’ll be hard to succeed as an actress, then come back as an office worker. I’ll accept you at that time. Oh, the 5th floor is the terrace. It’s a place to rest. Honestly speaking, most of the building is set aside for musicians. The actors usually come to the 4th floor whenever they have business here, or hold small parties on the roof. Most of the actors and actresses usually stay at home. After all, you know how hard their work is, despite how fancy they look. That’s why most of them rest at home or carry themselves out of the country. Wait, is that expression usually with bad connotations?”
She looked at Ahyoung in a daze. Her pronunciation was perfect throughout the whole time. All of her lines were catchy and her gestures were eye-catching.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Your pronunciation is really good.”
“Are you flattering me?”
“No. I’m just telling you my honest opinion. I even want to learn from you.”
“Really? That makes me feel good. I also aspired to be an actress once. You know what this is, right?”
Ahyoung took out a pen from her chest pocket and put it in her mouth. She jokingly said a few lines.
“Yes, I do that all the time.”
“I did that to death too. Thanks to that, I got something out of it. An attractive voice is necessary for a businesswoman, you know?”
Ahyoung put the pen back into her pocket.
“But unfortunately, I don’t seem to have any talent in acting, so I quit after a few years of being nameless. I hope you don’t become like me. I mean, if you’re going to do it, being a star is better than being dirt poor, isn’t it? A shining star.”
Ahyoung raised her hands above her head and spun around her wrist with a smile. She subconsciously imitated her. It was as though she was infected by Ahyoung’s cheerfulness.
After that, she took a tour throughout the building with Ahyoung. Just as she had said, the majority of the facilities here were tailored towards musicians and singers. Sometimes, people that looked like singers greeted Ahyoung. There were some that she felt like she had seen somewhere before.
After the tour, she was brought to the 5th floor terrace as the last course. There was a field of grass on top of the building. It was quite refreshing to see greenery in the forest of buildings.
“I told you about how our agency is A plus-grade, right?”
“Unfortunately, that is only when we consider actors. If we include actors and singers alike, I guess we’re B-grade? We don’t have any power in the singer department. And here I thought I invested quite a lot too. Well then, sit down here for a moment.”
She sat down on a colorful beach chair. She put her feet together on the ground and sat down in a proper manner, but when Ahyoung told her to lie down, she just gave up and lay down on her back. She saw the clear skies. The wind she couldn’t feel until just now started blowing.
“When you rest, you gotta rest lying down. Feels good, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does.”
“This space is always open, so many of our workers come up here. Freedom is the motto of the company after all. If we try to roll a stiff rock, we’ll only get stiff ideas, right? We can’t have that when we’re supposed to be working with entertainment.”
She thought about the things she saw after coming here. The neat-looking interior, the self-proclaimed but still good-sounding welfare, a recording space that was filled with equipment she had never seen before, as well as the overwhelmingly large practice room. However, what she liked the most was the smile from the employee who gave Ahyoung a hi-five. She might have just seen the good side of things, but she really liked the vibes that this company gave off. It flashed in her mind that she wanted to work here.
“It might be impossible, but my dream is to create a company where I can quit working with a smile.”
“You sound incredible, president. Also, I feel like you’ve achieved your dream to a certain extent.”
“I’m still far from it. If I want people to quit the job with smiles on their faces, the severance pay should be more. If I want to do that, I have to dig deeper into the pockets of the investors. And to do that, we must become an A-grade agency in both aspects. We have really good actors. I wish that I could do something about the singers, but I can’t do anything about that. In that aspect, Yellow Star acted really quickly. You know what Yellow Star is, right?”
“Yes, I do. One of the three major agencies.”
“If we went against them with actors alone, we won’t lose that easily. However, once you count the singers, I’d have a hard time showing them my business card. Honestly speaking, I didn’t know that idols would become so big. I thought that traditional singers would never step down from the music market. But what do you know? Who would’ve thought that those brats could have so much power? NL Company, Jewel - They all have two to three idol teams that represent their companies, but we don’t have that. We can’t bring in existing groups either since their ties with their current companies are too sturdy. I wish someone like that fell right in front of my eyes. On that note, do you want to try being an idol?”
“I want to become an actress.”
“It might be better for you to raise your popularity as an idol and switch to acting later. I heard that you appeared in a sitcom before, right? Your face is known already, so it should be easier for you to enter the market. You’ll be an actress as your main image and have being an idol as your sub-image. It will be a fresh change of things.”
Ahyoung stood up and started dancing lightly. It looked like some kind of idol dance, and her movements were very snappy as though she had been practicing for a long time.
“Pretty good, aren’t I?”
“You are. Did you practice?”
“I do it in secret when everyone else is practicing. Rather than that, what do you think? I was planning on releasing a girl idol group, and honestly speaking, you don’t look that bad. You might be able to stand in the center if you change your character to be more daring.”
Ahyoung came closer to her. She ruffled her hair and nodded.
“Looks like a short haircut should suit you too.”
“I have no intentions of becoming an idol. I want to start as an actress and end as one.”
“Is it because you don’t want the idol tag on you for life?”
“No, it’s not like that. I know how hard idols have their lives, and how hard they practice. There’s one around me.”
“An idol? Who?”
“A member of Blue. Though, they disbanded.”
“Blue, huh. They were pretty good. It was good to see them because they all had unique characters. You know someone from that team?”
“She went to the same school as me. Though, she has graduated now.”
“You’re from Myunghwa High, right? Let’s see Myunghwa High, that means… Oh! Lee Chaerim, am I right?”
“You’re quite knowledgeable.”
“I have basic info on all the people that became big at least once. I should try to buy their goodwill whenever I meet them after all. I’m the president for a reason.”
Ahyoung sat down at the edge of the beach chair.
“Since we’re at it, let’s talk about her. She started off as an idol, but she’s growing as an actress too. Before, idols received a lot of hate for shooting movies with their popularity alone instead of with their skill, but how is it now? We’re in an era where idols aren’t sinning by acting. Of course, people around them might not look at them in a good light. Some foreign fish are trying to play in their own waters after all, so the lofty ones don’t like that. Do you know why they don’t like it? It’s because those idol actors do better than them. They’re snatching away the food from all the traditional bigshots. Now, they can’t really blame the popularity of idols, since their acting skills are improving really fast. Once, the realm of actors was really solid and impenetrable. Actors who do not have experience in theater troupes and did not work in Daehak-ro were practically unable to gain the title of ‘actor’, especially in Chungmuro. But it’s not like that anymore. It’s showing signs of reversal. People are saying that the quickest route to becoming an actor is to become an idol first.”
She listened to Ahyoung until the end. She really had an urge to interrupt mid-way, but she couldn’t do so when she thought about writer Lee Hanmi who introduced her to this place.
“Wow, speak of the devil,” Ahyoung said as she looked at the entrance to the 5th floor.
She also turned her head around. A woman wearing slim-fit white pants, a semi-transparent sky-blue blouse, and a necklace with black beads on it came in, carrying a clutch bag.
“Unni, wait a bit. I’m in an interview right now.”
“Well, I’ll just sit here for the time being then. Continue with whatever you were doing. I’m here to get some sun.”
The woman put on the glasses she put in her pocket and smoothly took a beach chair for herself before lying down. Ahyoung laughed when she saw that woman.
“Unni, can you come to places like this when you have your own company to deal with?”
“It’s between you and me. Go on, continue with your interview. Hear out my frustrations after that.”
“Are the kids bothering you again?”
“Don’t even start. Those TTO brats, guh, they were cute when they followed me like puppies. Anyways, she has a good face. Do you want to come to my company if you get rejected here? My company’s much better than this place, you know?”
The woman lying down faintly smiled. She stared at the woman for a while before turning around to look at Ahyoung. She needed an explanation of who this woman was.
“She’s the president of NL Company, which has been gaining rapid popularity as of late. Her hobby is to come to a competing company and cause havoc on their rooftop. Geez, and you are so calm when you go over to JA.”
NL Company. She widened her eyes and looked at the woman lying down in front of her. She had a hunch when she heard the words ‘those TTO brats’, but she didn’t think that she was the president of their agency. Park Narim - even she, who had little knowledge about management agencies, knew her name. She was just that famous. She was the lady who was at the top of one of the three major agencies in the country and appeared frequently as a model in women’s magazines. She also saw her name in the chart of ‘50 most influential people in Korea’.
“Ignore the rude lady. Let’s finish what we were talking about before.”
“You’re talking about being an idol, right?”
“Yes. It’s not a bad idea for you. It’ll be quite hard for you if you want to sign a contract with me as an actress. I told you right? We’re an A plus grade when it comes to actors. However, if you wish to join the company as an idol I’m willing to write a contract right now.”
“But you have never heard me singing before.”
“The main vocalist is the only one that needs to sing well. Plus, once a singing instructor teaches you, you’ll be able to sing the basic harmony without trouble. As for the album, machines will do most of the work, so don’t worry about it. What era do you think this is? There’s no one who relies solely on their vocal cords to do the recording. Even if you read it like a book, we’ll get decent results as long as you get the pitch about right and we touch up the rest.”
“I want to join as an actress.”
Ahyoung crossed her arms and sat down.
“Honestly speaking, I think it will be hard for you.”
“How can you be so sure without watching me act?”
“Acting, huh. Yeah, that’s important. But the media these days isn’t all about acting.”
“Then what is it about?”
“It’s about image, and image consumption. If you want to get treated well based on your acting skill alone, you have to reach the level of those that you think are ‘famous actors’. That’s what it means to live off your acting. However, living off your image is a different story. Even if your acting is terrible, you’ll still sell if you look cute and pretty. If you gain a fandom, then you’ll be able to go on TV even if you lack acting skills. When you do that, you’ll gain skill. In that sense, you look a little lackluster. I’m not saying that you aren’t pretty. It’s just that you’re ‘just’ pretty which isn’t anything special.”
“I… want to become an actress. I want to continue acting.”
“Why do you want to walk down the hard path? I’ll let you act all you want. Just allocate some of that time to learn singing. You can act all you want in the remaining time. Support? I’ll give you everything you want. I can tell from your figure. I’m sure you’re strictly controlling your diet and I’m sure you’re doing gymnastics or dancing. I can tell from your thighs and calves alone. You aren’t simply skinny. With a figure like that, you’ll be able to learn to dance in no time. Isn’t that good?”
She looked at Ahyoung’s eyes. Ahyoung seemed to be serious here. Her hands tensed. She wanted to shout and stand up. At that moment, Maru’s face appeared in her mind. She calmed down her breathing and started talking.
“Do I not have an opportunity as an actress then?”
“Then I shall take my leave.”
“Really? You’re going just like that? Don’t you feel pity about the recommendation? Do you know how many people knock on our doors to just talk to me?”
“I can guess. This place is a really good company. You’re a splendid person as well, president. I really wanted to act in a place like this, but it won’t do for me if it’s not acting. I’m not saying that becoming an idol is a bad thing. It’s just, I don’t want to awkwardly do both of them. Actually, I’m quite lacking, and you might be correct about me. I know that I’m lacking. I’m really thankful for your offer. But I want to continue acting. If I can’t do that, there’s no reason for me to stay here.”
“Writer Lee will be disappointed.”
“I will tell the writer about this myself. I’ll tell her that I was stupid and rejected a really good proposal.”
She bit her lower lip. She wanted to leave this place this instant, but when she thought about the nonchalant smile Maru would have on his face, she thought that it wasn’t the right course of action. It was unknown when she would be able to meet such people again. She had to leave behind a good image of her. You’ve gotten better - she felt like she could hear Maru’s words.
“You’re quite young. In this world, you need to take shortcuts when you can. Only fools choose the hard path.”
“Then I’ll choose to be a fool.”
“Why are you so hung up on acting like that? I told you I’ll let you do it to your heart’s content later.”
“...It’s because I feel like I will run away again later if I run away now. Also, there’s a person I want to stand next to on stage. If I want to chase that person, I have to try my best starting now. I have no time to be singing.”
“What a pity.”
Ahyoung reached her hand out. She closed her eyes and opened them again before grabbing her hand. She didn’t know how she should apologize to writer Lee Hanmi. Perhaps this was her last opportunity? Should she just take up that offer instead? - she had such thoughts even as she shook Ahyoung’s hands. It was a charming offer after all.
“Are you really not going to regret it?”
“I will come back later once I feel confident in my skills as an actress. I will try my best to reach your standards.”
“So you like this company?”
“Yes! I especially like this chair.”
She forcefully joked around. She felt a lot better now. When she tried to let go of Ahyoung’s hand after a light handshake, Ahyoung did not let go.
“Hm? What is it?”
“Can you let go of my h….”
“I have to start explaining to you about the contract, so I can’t let go. I have a bad feeling that the bad woman over there is going to take you away from me,” Ahyoung said as she looked at Park Narim next to her.
She stared at Ahyoung in a daze.
“Now, then. Let’s get down to the real stuff, shall we?”
Ahyoung’s smile became a bit thicker.
 A place that was considered to be the ‘mecca’ of acting in Korea in the late 20th century to early 21st century. It’s no longer the case. Replacing it with ‘Hollywood’ might make it easier to understand.
Sheesh, that was a long chapter. I have mixed feelings about this Ahyoung woman.
I'm sure a lot of you must dislike her, I mean, if Bunbun became an idol, she would have to break up with Maru! I'm sure no one wants that, even as a joke.
I was wondering when Narim was going to show up again.