A hand suddenly reached out from behind Wen Yu and grabbed the book out of his hands.
Shi Zhong Tang was standing behind Wen Yu. He looked at Wen Yu’s drawing then turned around and smiled at him, “Let me finish the drawing, this sister is my person within the painting.”
Wen Yu looked at Shi Zhong Tang for a while, then jumped off from the stool and ran away.
Just as Ning Ning wanted to stop him, he willingly ran back and stuffed the pencil in his hand to Shi Zhong Tang.
Shi Zhong Tang shrugged as he watched Wen Yu run away again. He smiled at Ning Ning. “Alright, now you can relax.”
Ning Ning was shocked by what he said.
“People usually don’t like what my brother draws.” Shi Zhong Tang flipped the book. “His first art teacher was scared off by his drawing. Look.”
He turned the book over and showed the drawing to Ning Ning.
“This is my brother’s self-portrait.” Shi Zhong Tang said, “He drew this in front of the art teacher while looking at the mirror.”
In the end, the drawing had two people.
Wen Yu was standing sideways in front of the easel, there were two hands on his shoulders. Black mist and smoke lines were extended from those two hands and gathered behind him to form a half-length figure of a woman. The face of the woman was unclear. All that could be seen was that she was bleeding, dying.
“Later on I asked him who this woman was.” Shi Zhong Tang said, “He said it was Aunt Xiao Ning…the person who fostered him before.”
Ning Ning stared at the drawing blankly.
Shi Zhong Tang probably thought she was scared, so he took the book back.
“His aunt died in a fall from a building in front of him, this had a huge impact on him.” Shi Zhong Tang looked down at the drawing in his hand, he fell silent for a while before concluding, “He is trapped by the person within the drawing.”
He closed the book with a smack after he finished talking.
Everything from the past, the pain, the grey memories seemed to have transformed into black lines and were enclosed in the book the moment it was closed.
“Right, are you thirsty?” Shi Zhong Tang seemed to have switched character. He magically took out two scarlet-red cherry tomatoes from behind him, “Call me Shi Tou Gege1, I will personally feed you, how about it?”
Ning Ning came back to her senses from her trance, she smiled at him grudgingly. “You can have them, I will drink some water.”
She frantically escaped after she finished. Shi Zhong Tang shouted from behind her, “Hey, hey, did I say something wrong again?”
He did not say anything wrong.
She was panicking.
Ning Ning had always felt that she had saved Wen Yu. But the moment she saw the drawing, she asked herself, did she really save him? Maybe… she dragged him along with her the moment she fell from the building.
Wen Yu was alive at the moment, but he might only be half-alive, the other half would forever be left in <<Abandoned Child>>. By the corpse on the snowy ground, crying non-stop in the snowstorm, shouting hoarsely, “I beg you, don’t abandon me!”
Shi Zhong Tang looked at her stumbling back view from a distance with a complicated expression.
He looked down slowly after a while, opening the book in his hands bit by bit.
He flipped through it page by page, until he reached the page of Wen Yu’s most recent drawing.
Children could always see things adults couldn’t.
Maybe even Wen Yu didn’t know what he had captured and drew?
Shi Zhong Tang was mildly stunned. The drawing of Ning Ning had not taken form, the wisteria flowers and the pillars beside her were all outlined, peeking out from behind the pillar was an indistinct mask.
He slowly looked towards his right. Behind a pillar in the cloister not far from him, a smiling mask peeked out.
In the next scene, Shi Zhong Tang’s performance was a little off.
After the third NG2, Director Shi stuffed sweets into his mouth. “Do you want to take a break? Have some sweets, tune your condition.”
“I’ll take a break.” Shi Zhong Tang got off the set and conveniently smacked Director Shi’s beer belly once. “This belly, you should cut down on sweets, otherwise the crew would have to open an additional door tomorrow so that you can walk out.”
“Bullshit! Do you think I’m a pet dog!” Director Shi raged, he reached out and pinched Shi Zhong Tang’s ears.
Ning Ning let out a laugh as she watched the two of them chase and fight each other, she also felt that something was off.
No matter what Shi Zhong Tang was like in his private life, he was a very dedicated actor when he was filming. How dedicated was he? If the male lead was a swordsman, he would learn swordplay, if the male lead could drive a tank, he would learn how to drive a tank…
Stunt doubles had to be hating his guts! He specialised in ruining their careers!
He performed very well ever since the filming for <<The Person Within the Painting>> started, you could even say he had the best performance. Everyone else’s conditions had their peaks and valleys—Ning Ning included with her few NGs—Shi Zhong Tang was the only one who acted unimpeded until now.
It was not until this scene that he would repeatedly lose his concentration, repeatedly getting NGs.
Was this scene very difficult? Ning Ning thought with her brows furrowed, she took a look at the script in her hands.
This was a scene which involved both of them.
If you had to name this scene, it would probably be <<Man Angrily Stabbing His Ex-girlfriend Who Dumped Him>>, or … <<Bewitched>>.
In this scene, the male lead was increasingly smittened by Princess Ling Shan. This in turn made Princess Ling Shan slowly lose her patience. Princess Ling Shan returned to the painting after the fight, she refused to come out no matter how much the male lead called out to her. He begged her to no avail. Thus, he decided to find a way for her to leave the painting permanently, willing to pay whatever price it took.
“Alright.” Shi Zhong Tang said from the other side of the room, “I’m done with my break, let’s start again.”
Everyone went back to their positions, Director Shi also quickly swallowed the sweets that were still in his mouth then exclaimed.
Smoke was curling upwards from the incense burner, it wafted past a half-opened accessory box, revealing the jade hairpins, gold hairpins, hair ornaments and earrings.
Shi Zhong Tang retrieved a peony flower ornament from the box. He placed it on his mouth and breathed out on it to soften the glue on the back of the ornament, then placed it between Ning Ning’s eyebrows.
Ning Ning was half reclined on a chaise lounge, her body was engulfed in the smoke and mist. She did not look like something from the mortal realm, she looked like she would dissipate with a gust of wind. It was not until the peony flower ornament was placed between her eyebrows that she looked real and charming.
Shi Zhong Tang looked at her longingly and chimed in, “The peony is the sole true national beauty, shocking the capital when it blooms.”3
Ning Ning smiled faintly. She held her head up with an arm and without opening her eyes she lazily uttered, “Li Lang, we should spend some time apart from each other.”
After a moment of indescribable silence, Shi Zhong Tang calmly asked her, “Are you serious?”
This calmness was scarier than if he was hysterical, it made even Ning Ning feel scared.
But she was not willing to show weakness, she opened her eyes and looked at him instead. “Yes.”
He remained calm, his smile was even more gentle and caring than usual, but the air around them was getting more and more intense.
“Can you tell me why?” He looked at Ning Ning sincerely, “What did I do wrong that caused you to hate me suddenly?”
“…It’s just that I think you are too engrossed.” Ning Ning pointed to the wall behind him. “In the end, I’m the same as them, just another painting.”
Many scroll paintings were hung on the wall, from landscapes to portraits. Every one of them were drawn by famous artists, they were all precious to Shi Zhong Tang. He would often appreciate the paintings with Princess Ling Shan, critiquing them. He would tease her sometimes, “With this many people to accompany you, you wouldn’t be lonely even if I’m not around.”
And now, Shi Zhong Tang turned back and looked at the paintings she pointed at. He stood up all of a sudden and walked briskly towards them.
Then, with a rip.
He tore down his favourite Tang dynasty court lady painting from the wall in front of Ning Ning. He then tossed it into the charcoal basin beside him without hesitation.
The corner of the painting caught fire, burning the cheek of the court lady, turning this priceless painting into nothing but black ashes.
Rip, rip, rip… Shi Zhong Tang tore the paintings down from the wall one by one with his back facing Ning Ning, tossing them one by one into the coal basin until the wall was bare, not a painting remained. He slowly turned around.
At that moment, bright flames were dancing on the paintings, illuminating Shi Zhong Tang’s face. As it sizzled out it flickered on his face, making him looked like a demon.
“They are gone.” He smiled at Ning Ning, “You’re the only one left.”
Ning Ning stared at him blankly, she felt chills running down her back.
He was like a fire in the night, but it was not warmth in front of her, only a twisted madness.
“…You still don’t get it.” She could not help but grip the corner of the couch. She did not want to show weakness, but her tone relaxed a little unwittingly, “The two of us are separated by yin and yang, you are of the living, I am of the dead, how could we be tog…”
Before she could even finish, she was pulled into his embrace.
This embrace was reflected in the bronze mirror beside them, the colour of the bronze mirror was so dim and hazy that the two of them looked like they melded together within it.
“I’ve caught you.” Shi Zhong Tang whispered in her ear, “I’m never letting go.”
He was too forceful, it made Ning Ning feel a little suffocated. This suffocation made her go into a trance. Was she actually Ning Ning or Princess Ling Shan? Was the person hugging her right now actually Shi Zhong Tang, or the male lead of <<The Person Within the Painting>>?
“… Let go!” She suddenly came back to her senses. She struggled with all her strength to break free from his embrace, then ran towards the direction of the study table. Her usual dignity and nobility was thrown out of the window, she was just a young girl being fearfully chased now. She stumbled while running, an embroidered shoe slipped out of her foot but she did not dare to turn back and pick it up.
A seemingly hot white smoke billowed.
Shi Zhong Tang ran to the front of the table, on the table was the only undamaged painting in the room. On the painting was a girl in white hugging herself with her back facing him, looking pitiful and afraid.
“Ling Shan.” Shi Zhong Tang picked up the embroidered shoe and waved it at her. “You dropped your shoe.”
The person within the painting did not react.
“Don’t be afraid of me.” Shi Zhong Tang put the shoe down. He reached out and stroked the person within the painting, from her hair, to her face, to her shoulders. “I will never hurt you.”
The person within the painting continued to ignore him.
“…Come out.” After a brief moment of silence, Shi Zhong Tang said even more gently, “I was at fault, I should not have done that, I should not have scared you…”
The person within the painting remained in the painting with no intention of stepping out.
Swoosh. Shi Zhong Tang suddenly swiped with his right hand and swept the brush rack and inkstones onto the floor.
Drip, drip, drip…His back faced the camera, standing in front of the table. His right hand was hanging beneath his green sleeve, drops of blood were dripping from his injured finger onto the floor, dyeing it red.
“…Maybe you are just playing around, maybe you are just treating me as a… gigolo at your beck and call.” He smiled dispiritedly, then he raised his injured hand and gently stroked his person within the painting.
The pale white person within the painting was dyed red from his fresh blood.
“But I cannot let go anymore.” His eyes were gentle, he spoke from the heart, “Ling Shan, I will let you come out of the painting, forever.”
Upon finishing the sentence, he bent over and gave her a kiss.
The shot shifted from his back slowly to his front.
The final freeze frame was that of him slowly straightening up his body and revealing a smile, the corner of his lips were stained with a drop of blood, his expression was so gentle, so desolate, so hurt and so…unbridled due to his all-in gamble.
Such an intense performance stunned everyone until Director Shi clapped once. “Pass!”
Shi Zhong Tang was indeed Shi Zhong Tang. After a few NGs for a short period of time, he displayed far scarier acting skills as compared to before. It practically caused everyone who was acting with him to shiver and struggle to breathe.
Ning Ning perspired after she recovered from her shivers. A good partner could help you improve. She felt that she had a better understanding of Princess Ling Shan, she even felt there was unfinished business after they were done filming for the day.
It was a pity. If Shi Zhong Tang was not the male lead in this movie, she might have gotten closer to him.
“Eh?” She suddenly took notice of a face which was wearing an unfamiliar expression. She walked over, bent down and looked at the person, “Little Wen Yu, what’s wrong?”
Wen Yu had his sketchbook back, he was sitting alone in a corner while watching the scene. He had a different expression from the others. He was not impressed. On the contrary, he had a trace of worry (on his face).
He turned around and looked at Ning Ning as he heard her voice. He hesitated and tightened his grip on the sketchbook. He asked meekly, “Did you notice that…brother is a little weird today?”
Ning Ning was taken aback, she looked at where Wen Yu was looking. She only thought that Shi Zhong Tang’s every action was full of vigour, he was simply the best actor she had ever seen in her life.
“…He is especially good today.” Ning Ning could only come to this conclusion. She looked at Wen Yu. “What about you? What do you think is weird about him?”
“…He is especially psyched today.” Wen Yu gently bit his lip. He finally added another sentence after a long time, “I think… he seems to be preparing himself to do something extremely dangerous.”
An adult would not believe a child’s gut feeling, not to mention that the area had good security. Shi Zhong Tang was also an amateur combat artist, he could take on three guys at once by himself. If he were to meet up with a regular thug, who knew which one of them would be in more danger.
So no one would have expected that, at midnight, with crows circling in the air, Shi Zhong Tang was standing in front of Life Theater with a smile on his face. He was fanning himself using the ticket in his hand.
1This an affectionate way of addressing an older male
2This a Chinese film term for a scene or performance that did not pass, NG is an abbreviation for ‘not good’.
3This a line from the poem Peony Pavilion.