What is Love?
Filming a story from decades ago now would naturally need adjustments to be made according to the market; more delicate lines, better cast, more investments and along with the flow of time, a famous director with a status no one else could reach.
Yet another audition.
Sure enough two big names that would make you shiver once you hear them attended. Solo audition, solo interview. When it was Ning Ning’s turn, Chen Guan Chao sat behind an office desk with his arms crossed and asked, “Describe the phantom with two words.”
Ning Ning: “A monster.”
Chen Guan Chao: “Three words.”
Ning Ning: “An ugly monster.”
The character design for the role of the Phantom was that because she was born ugly, her parents sold her to the circus when she was young. After enduring a lot of hardships in the circus she finally escaped, hiding herself in an abandoned old theater. Afterwards, the old theater was renovated, a new theatrical troupe moved in, she hid in the shadows, peeping at the male lead Chen Yun He who was as warm and bright as the sun.
Chen Guan Chao: “What kind of Phantom would you show the audience?”
Ning Ning looked down and thought about it for a moment, then looked up and laughed coldly, “I will dominate them with fear!”
Even if it was coated with romance, the movie at its core was a suspenseful thriller, The female lead was a serial killer, if she was not able to dominate them with fear, then…… it would not be a thriller! (Go out turn right and report to the Valentine’s day slot.)
This time it was Chen Guan Chao’s turn to look down and think for a moment, then he raised his head and looked at her. “Use a term to describe the phantom’s love for the male lead.”
Ning Ning answered without thinking, “Monopolisation!”
The Phantom was self-abased, it didn’t matter if she had an unmatchable and wonderful singing voice. No one had ever loved her, she had also never loved anyone, until the appearance of the male lead. For the sake of obtaining him, she was willing to do anything in her capabilities, including murders as well as imprisoning of the male lead at the end of the story.
“What do you think would be the ending for this love?” Chen Guan Chao stared at her as he leaned slightly forward.
Ning Ning stopped for a while, then resolutely answered, “Destruction!”
“You can go back first.” Chen Guan Chao looked a little disappointed, he leaned back on his chair. As Ning Ning was about to leave the room, he said from behind her, “Go and think about it again, give me an answer in three days time. Tell me then… what is love to the Phantom?”
What is love?
After she returned home, Ning Ning switched on her computer. Li Bo Yue had already sent her resources for the older version of <<Phantom of the Theater>>. Who could she ask? She didn’t know what love was, so she wanted to ask Chen Guan Chao himself, ask the Phantom from the original production…… what the hell was this rubbish !!
The picture quality from those years naturally could not be compared to the present day’s quality. But what hurt the eyes more were the acting skills of the male and female leads. It was no wonder this film deserved to burn in the depths of hell. And that it was still a black mark in Chen Guan Chao’s history till today, for which he was still attacked from time to time.
Ning Ning took out a pen from the drawer. She wrote down the lines as she watched the movie, then she brought the script in front of her wardrobe mirror. She adjusted her attitude then affectionately said, “Yun He, I love you.”
The reflection in the mirror wasn’t her, it was Qu Ning’er who was wearing burnt Republican clothes along with hair draping over her face. She mouthed soundlessly to Ning Ning, ”You don’t believe you will fall in love with that good looking boy, and you don’t believe that he will love the ugly you.”
The phone rang. Ning Ning blinked. The Qu Ning’er in the mirror had vanished and she was left with herself.
“Hello?” Ning Ning answered the phone.
“How is it?” Li Bo Yue’s voice rang out from the phone.
“I’m not sure yet, I couldn’t answer one of the questions.” Ning Ning asked him, “Li Bo Yue, what is love?”
“Hold on.” After some clicks and clacks of the keyboard, Li Bo Yue answered with the speech cadence of a politician, “Love! Is the most wonderful thing on earth. Love is you looking at the moon while I look at you! Love! Is the most humble thing on earth. Love is you being on top of the clouds while I am left in the dust! Love! Is……”
“Stop stop stop!!” Ning Ning could not take it anymore, “Where did you get that?”
“Google and IMDB of course.” Li Bo Yue returned to his normal way of speaking and analysed for her, “Director Chen’s heart is very artsy. If you want to move him you have to be as artsy as him or be even more artsy than him! What is love, right? Leave it to me, I will provide you with a standard answer tonight!”
Swift and decisive, the meticulous Li Bo Yue hung up right after he finished, probably to write about what love was.
“…… even if there is a standard answer, I will be exposed through acting!” Ning Ning held her phone, turned her head and looked at the mirror.
Her reflection smiled at her gloomily. It was the type of smile someone who had lived underground and had never seen the sky would flash, someone who wouldn’t be warm even if the sun shone on him.
“I know the pain of being called ugly, I know the anger of getting mocked, I hate this world! Since this world does not treat me kindly, why should I be kind to it!” Ning Ning suddenly punched the mirror, then screamed at her own reflection, “So you tell me, how do you love someone? How do I love someone?”
After a few minutes, she slowly walked back, turned around and headed out. Once she got downstairs, she hailed a cab. She said as she sat in the car, “35 Rouge Street.”
The car stopped at the entrance of Life Cinema.
Ning Ning opened the car door. She looked at the lantern in front of her. the big door, the doorman, the poster.
She had left not long ago, she came back, but it felt like a lifetime ago.
She walked closer and took a look, the poster on the door had changed.
Title: <<Scarlet Stage>>
Starring: Tang Zhen, Cui Ping Ping
It was another movie she had not seen before, two more names she had not heard of. An old theater was on the poster. There was a couple on the stage. The man was dressed in a costume, just like a good actor. The woman on the other hand was wearing something fashionable, just like a businesswoman., She held the male actor in her arms, dagger in one hand, stabbing his chest as tears flowed down her cheek and dripped onto his face.
Ning Ning looked carefully at the poster, before she finally mumbled, “This is it.”
For the time being, regardless of the content, based on the backstory and character settings, this movie had many similarities with <<Phantom of the Theater>>. It was also a thriller coated with romance.
She could find inspiration from this film. If she was lucky, maybe she could find the answer to Director Chen’s question. But this would mean she had to transform into another person again, to experience an unknown journey. She might experience the same pain as last time, but what did it matter?
“There is nothing to lose anyway.” Ning Ning laughed coldly to herself.
She walked forward but was blocked by a hand.
“Ticket.” The doorman turned around and looked at her with his snow white mask.
Ning Ning was stunned, “Didn’t I give you that last time?”
“One ticket per movie.” The doorman answered dully. “You don’t have a ticket, I cannot let you in.”
Ning Ning opened her mouth, but he was right, she could not retort. If a ticket allowed one to watch movies for an unlimited amount of times, the cinema would have closed down long ago.
“Where is the ticketing counter?” She looked at her surroundings, there was no ticketing counter in sight, so she changed her question, “How can I buy a ticket?”
The doorman quietly leaned on the door, unmoving, only shaking his head very slowly.
“Why do you still want to go in?” He suddenly asked, “Have you not had your fill of crying from last time?”
Ning Ning was stunned, then she remembered the awkward incident from last time. She ran past him crying, tears mixing with the rain ruining the makeup on her face, she bawled towards the sky, her face which was dubbed the prettiest vase of the new generation was smashed into pieces by her agony.
If someone had taken a photo of that, it would be a black mark in her history for the rest of her life.
Before she could say anything, the sky suddenly rumbled. She turned and looked at the sky then broke into laughter, “What a coincidence, it was raining last time, it’s going to rain this time too.”
“Go home.” The doorman suddenly said.
Ning Ning shook her head and smiled at him, “I’m not going, I will just wait here.”
“It’s useless.” The doorman said, ‘I don’t have any tickets to give you.”
“There has to be someone with tickets.” Ning Ning leaned on the wall beside the door and dully said, “I will just stand here, wait for the person with tickets to arrive, then think of a way to buy the tickets.”
But no one came, there was only the unending rain.
Ning Ning got bored so she started looking for information on auctions of old movie tickets online. She didn’t know anyone in this line of work, this kind of collection was not popular either. Sometimes she would find a seller but they didn’t have the ticket that she wanted.
It was not just the ticket, she couldn’t even find any information on “Life Cinema”.
She turned and eyed the front door……how about, sneaking in?
“Don’t think about sneaking in.” The doorman’s voice suddenly rang out. He wasn’t even looking towards Ning Ning’s direction, eyes gazing at the sky. “Never ever think about sneaking in.”
“Why?” Ning Ning asked.
“It’s getting really late, why are you still not leaving?” The doorman was getting angry for unknown reasons, “Aren’t you cold? Aren’t you hungry? Won’t your parents get worried?”
Ning Ning fell silent for a moment then said in a whisper: “… I have not father, my mother… My mother is not around anymore.”
The doorman was suddenly speechless.
“Moreover I am not cold and I am not hungry.” She lowered her head and looked at her hands, her eyes were lit with black flames, “I just want to… just want to use these hands to grab something, I just want to act!”
The rain was getting louder, it flowed down heavily along the roof. The door was like a dividing line. Ning Ning leaned on the wall to the left, the doorman leaned on the wall to the right. He stared at her with an indistinguishable expression under the snow white mask.
This persisted for a few minutes. Ning Ning tried to break the silence so she turned and smiled, “Oh by the way, what do you think love is?”
She regretted it as soon as she finished saying the words. She should not have asked a stranger a question like this. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to be willing to answer the question. He looked towards a direction and said gloomily, “She’s here.”
Who was here? Ning Ning looked over in the same direction, she could only see a frail figure within the rain. The figure was trudging in the puddles of water with difficulty, hobbling and without complaints. The figure finally reached the entrance of the cinema. Within the tight grasp of their old and dried hand, was an old movie ticket.