Adapted from a True Story
Morning, outside the set.
“Sir!” A monk suddenly jumped in front of Director Chen. “This monk was observing the celestial phenomena at night and saw that your crew has an overwhelming bloody omen, it must be an evil spirit causing trouble! You only need to pay eight hundred for a blessing…”
“Go, go, go play at the side.” A taoist priest pushed him out of the way, “Observing celestial phenomenons is a Taoist’s specialty, what has it got to do with a monk like you? Sir, this old priest can see that your ophryon1 has darkened, I can vaguely see that a bloody omen is upon you…”
Director Chen felt absurd. Once he entered the set, he dragged Li Shan Zhu along and complained, “Where did this group of preachers and spirit catchers come from? I am clearly filming <<Juliet>>, with them around, it’s like I’m filming <<Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio>>2…Hmm? What are you looking at?”
Li Shan Zhu was extremely bored, he had been watching a video on the laptop in his hands. The title of the video was: <<Shocking! My hair stood on it’s ends instantly, 1:30 left me stunned!>>. Director Chen watched the video along with him to the end, then they looked at each other.
“Shan Zhu.” Director Chen coughed once, “Get one person to come and bless this place.”
Li Shan Zhu was taken aback, “Director Chen, you really believe this?”
“Believe it my ass!” Director Chen sneered, “But it doesn’t matter whether I believe it or not, what’s important is that others believe it, the audience believes it.”
“What you mean is…” Li Shan Zhu seemed to have understood it.
“<<The Blair Witch Project>>.” Director Chen spat out a phrase, “A mockumentary horror movie.”
<<The Blair Witch Project>>, a film with less than sixty thousand dollars investment, done with a group of newcomers, running less than eighty two minutes—it ended up as a horror movie miracle that had a box office of two hundred and fifty million dollars. If you talked about the picture quality, there was not much picture quality from a film that was filmed completely on a digital camera. If you talked about the content, the plot was simple and there was nothing extraordinary about it. If you talked about the marketing…it was practically miraculous! Every person who came later then continuously imitated, researched, and attempted to surpass them.
First, posts appeared on the internet one by one, then videos, then images, they told everyone one thing—Maryland housed a witch who killed people, (a witch named) Blair.
No one believed it at first, there were also not many discussions about it. But not long after, missing people notices started appearing in newspapers and magazines, the notices stated that three university students went to Maryland to search for Blair, only to end up missing in the end.
People did not believe the posts on the internet, but they would believe the newspaper. Very quickly, Blair became a central topic among many people, especially young students. When the discussion reached a certain level, a piece of news appeared. It said that a belonging of the three university students was found, it was a digital camera, it had filmed what happened when they went looking for Blair. Currently, a film company acquired the rights from the family of the deceased, edited the footage and screened it.
Many people believed it to be real, but it was actually fake. Everything was fake. The three so-called university students were just the director’s classmates.
“No matter if the video is real or not, we can treat it as something real.” Director Chen laughed. “We can imitate <<The Blair Witch Project>>, we can tell people that…our <<After Juliet’s Death>> is adapted from a true story.”
Thus, <<After Juliet’s Death>> that was supposed to be a pure romance film—after many twists and turns, due to an assortment of reasons, in the end turned into…
“<<After Juliet’s Death>>, a thrilling romance film based on a true story. The story begins in 1970. An old man was sentenced to death for murder. In court, he told everyone that the reason he killed the ‘gigolo’ was because said ‘gigolo’ had eloped with his daughter. As they were eloping, his daughter died in a car accident. Afraid of payback, the ‘gigolo’ found a woman who sounded identical to his daughter, just so she could call him at certain time intervals, pretending that his daughter was not dead…”
On the sofa, Ning Ning put down the newspaper in her hands and asked the two people in front of her, “What exactly does Director Chen want to do?”
Chen Shuang He continued to peel the apple without looking up. “Get publicity, get headlines.”
“Haha, this is to your advantage, there are no downsides.” Shi Zhong Tang rubbed Chen Shuang He’s head, the latter pushed his hand away angrily. “Next time someone gets hurt in the crew, you will only gain popularity from it, it will not bring you negative impacts anymore.”
Just like Shi Zhong Tang said.
A few more people got hurt in the crew afterwards, the reactions of the outside world was…excitement!
Another accident had happened, how exciting! Another video had been uploaded on the internet, how exciting!
A number of people started to use the same passion they had while binge watching a drama series to follow the “supernatural videos” associated with the Juliet crew online. People who could not wait would even loiter near the set, with a look of expectation they looked at every actor and every staff member from the crew, wishing that an accident would befall them immediately.
At the same time, a few newspapers and magazines also started to publish news related to this. One had even interviewed one of the persons involved in this—a woman had claimed to be the person the female lead in the movie was based on, the one whom the ‘gigolo’ had found to imitate the daughter of the old man.
Even the third male actor who had left the crew because of his facial injury popped out and helped it gain traction. He claimed during the interview, “Now that I think about it carefully, the reason I got hurt was because I was standing too close to Chen Shuang He at the time. Moreover, my height and physique is similar to his…so when the power went out, the culprit had gotten the wrong person.”
Gradually, no one believed Chen Shuang He to be the culprit anymore.
On the contrary, they believed something else instead.
“Now, the audience has very high expectations for this film. Furthermore, according to the feedback I’ve just received…” Director Chen glanced at Chen Shuang He. “Around seventy percent of the audience thinks that you might die in the process of filming this movie.”
Chen Shuang He’s expression was incomparably stinky, was there a father who damned his son like this?
“For the sake of satisfying the audience’s needs.” Director Chen laughed. “I’ve decided to stage a play on the day this movie officially premieres.”
The onlookers looked at each other, Ning Ning looked at him. “A play? Will there be enough time?”
“I didn’t say that I need all of you to act out a complete play. Gimmick, the main thing is the gimmick.” Director Chen had people distribute the scripts.
Ning Ning received the script and took a look, it was really a gimmick.
This play was the equivalent of adding a prologue to the movie. On the court, an old man—who was accused of being a murderer—was escorted by two policemen to the defendant stand.
A pale man stood across from him on the plaintiff stand. He was but a spirit and not a person, accusing the old man with tears streaming down his cheeks, “You murderer!”
“You’re right, I’m a murderer.” The old man looked at him with resentment. “To take revenge for my dead daughter!”
The two of them blamed each other, resented each other, in the end, they rushed out of their stands and ran up to one another.
Their rage and hatred pulled open the red curtains that covered the screen, the movie then officially began.
“Naturally, we can’t do this in every theater, I will arrange for you to act out this play in a designated theater. Of course, if the response is good, we might add more sessions in the future.” Director Chen smiled at Chen Shuang He and Qu Yan.
This play was practically a two-man scene for the two of them. The others—even the female lead Ning Ning—were but spirits walking around on stage.
“The play would mainly be acted out by Chen Shuang He and Qu Yan.” Director Chen looked towards Ning Ning. “As for you, I have other arrangements.”
Director Chen very quickly found a theater, he even had people decorate it beforehand. By the time Ning Ning went over and took a look, she felt chills on her back.
“How is it?” Director Chen asked her with slight smugness. “Doesn’t it have an antique Republic era grand theater flavour?”
“It does.” Ning Ning forced a smile.
She had never seen what a grand theater looked like in the Republic era, she was only looking at the red curtains that were draped on either sides of the screens, the carved wooden chairs in front of the screen—besides the fact that there were no masked people, everything else was exactly the same as Life Theater.
There was an instant when Ning Ning thought that she had accidentally stepped into Life Theater of this time period.
With this level of similarity, it was definitely not a coincidence. Ning Ning stared at Director Chen and asked, “Director Chen, why did you think to renovate the theater this way?”
“Oh, I was not the one who thought of it.” Director Chen casually answered, “Here, here, and here, they belong to the old man, daughter and ‘gigolo’ respectively.”
Ning Ning was stunned. She looked to where he was pointing, those three seats that were placed side by side. The other chairs were of natural wood colour, only these three chairs were painted white. With colours that stood out so much, they looked like three candles burning brightly in a mourning hall.
“You don’t have much of a role in the play. When the play ends, don’t change out of your clothes and don’t remove your makeup, come down immediately and sit here.” Director Chen pointed at the seat belonging to the daughter, he smiled at Ning Ning. “Here, try it out.”
Ning Ning could only sit down.
“How does it feel?” Director Chen asked.
“Nothing much.” Ning Ning shook her head. “I feel like a ghost.”
“I want you to be like a ghost.” Director Chen laughed. “I want the audience beside you to feel that the old man, the daughter and the ‘gigolo’ are ghosts who have appeared, sitting by their sides, watching the movie along with them.”
Ning Ning smiled at him awkwardly, asking the previous question again, “Who gave you this idea? Who decorated the theater?”
“The idea is mine.” Director Chen said, “The theater…was designed by someone I know well.”
Just as Ning Ning was about to ask the name of the person he knew, Director Chen suddenly answered a call and went out. When he went out, Shi Zhong Tang walked in. He looked at his surroundings and exclaimed.
“Who did this?” Shi Zhong Tang laughed. “Did Qu Yan give Director Chen the idea?”
“Qu Yan has been to Life Theater?” Ning Ning asked.
“I don’t know about that, I don’t care about any customers except you.” Shi Zhong Tang shrugged. “Maybe Boss Qu told Director Chen through him?”
Ning Ning took a look at him then turned her face away, saying in a low voice, “That’s impossible…”
The title of the play was <<Trial>>.
The word trial would agitate Boss Qu greatly, it would remind him of the trial he and his daughter faced, the day they were killed. Standing on such a stage, he would go into an even bigger frenzy compared to the past, he would lose his head more, he would also hate the one on the plaintiff stand more.
At this time Director Chen returned from the outside, Chen Shuang He, Qu Yan and others were following behind him.
Chen Shuang He took a look at his surroundings and got a shock as well, he walked to Ning Ning’s side and asked in a low voice, “…What is going on here?”
Ning Ning did not answer him, she looked behind him instead.
Chen Shuang He waited for a moment before he too turned his head back slowly, looking behind him.
Qu Yan was standing a short distance away, behind him was a black figure. The figure was looking around his surroundings in a trance-like state, then his eyes coldly shifted towards them.
Those eyes made Ning Ning feel that…
Seventy percent of the audience was not wrong, Chen Shuang He might really die in this movie.
1An ophryon is the point on the midline of the forehead just above the glabella.
2Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, is a collection of Classical Chinese stories by Pu Songling, comprising close to five hundred “marvel tales” in the zhiguai and chuanqi styles, which serve to implicitly criticise societal problems then. Wiki article