Two Minutes of Acting
“Two minutes.” Chen Shuang He told himself in the mirror with his hands on the sink, “Crush her!”
Back in the living room, his father’s voice rang out.
“You look a little nervous.” Director Chen was sitting on the sofa with a red wine bottle in hand, scarlet-red wine filled a wine glass which he handed over to Chen Shuang He, “Do you want a glass? It can help you calm down.”
“…No need.” Chen Shuang He looked towards Director Chen, his face had a trace of humiliation, “What happened last time will not happen again.”
“Oh?” Director Chen retracted the wine glass and took a sip from it. “You are that confident?”
“Of course.” Chen Shuang He said coldly, “After I carefully thought about it, what she showed at the <<Ugly Girl>> audition was not acting skills at all!”
It was impossible for someone’s acting skills to improve tremendously in a short period of time. A genius could do it, but Chen Shuang He didn’t consider Ning Ning as a genius, calling her mediocre was already praising her! So last time at the <<Ugly Girl>> audition, her eye-catching performance could only be explained by one thing…
“It was only a coincidence.” Chen Shuang He said slowly, “Her mother passed away, unintentionally causing her character in real life and the script to overlap. And thus, she performed well as Qu Ling, because it did not require acting skills, she only had to act as herself.”
“So?” Director Chen gazed at him.
“So, she may be able to perform well as Qu Ling, but not as the Phantom.” Chen Shuang He said, “Because she has nothing in common with the Phantom, there is no way she would get by through a coincidence again…”
“Hold on…” Director Chen suddenly interrupted him, he sized up Chen Shuang He and asked, “Am I under the wrong impression? You seem to be biased against her.”
…You have no right to say that about me! Who was the one who was clamouring for her to leave the entertainment industry a week ago?
“…I don’t.” The corners of Chen Shuang He’s mouth twitched. “I was only speaking the truth.”
As he said that, the doorbell rang.
“…Then prove it.” Director Chen put down the wine glass, rolled up his sleeve and looked at his wristwatch. He looked up at Chen Shuang He and blinked. “Two minutes, crush her.”
…He actually eavesdropped on his own son talking to himself in the toilet, this person was too disgusting!
Chen Shuang He walked angrily to the front door.
Chen Shuang He opened the door. Ning Ning stood outside of the door looking as frail as last time, but she seemed vaguely different. Chen Shuang He did not get to the bottom of what exactly was different, because it didn’t matter, because she would only be in his life for two more minutes at most.
“Did you watch <<Phantom of the Theater>>?” He asked directly.
“I did.” Ning Ning answered.
Two minutes of acting had begun.
Time was limited, which scene should he pick? Which scene would better express her ineptness and inferiority?
Chen Shuang He quickly arrived at an answer in his heart.
“That’s great.” He smiled faintly, “Let us act scene fifteen of <<Phantom of the Theater>>— Seeing Heaven.”
There was a minute thirty left.
The two of them went to the living room, Chen Shuang He drew the curtains as they passed by the French window, the thin sunshine was completely cut off from the outside and the living room turned dim.
He stood within the darkness and closed his eyes. Once he opened them again, he had already become an innocent and timid rookie actor.
His hands held a formless broom as he slowly swept the floor, he looked around all of a sudden and realised that there was no one else on the stage. He happily smiled and put the broom aside, then coughed twice and held onto an orchid, imitating the star performer and started singing on stage.
“Orioles dream-waking coil their song,” he sang, “through all the brilliant riot of the new season.”
As he sang, Chen Shuang He looked out for Ning Ning’s movements. That was weird, why was she not making any moves? Was she still watching from the sides?
At this point, he noticed what Director Chen was looking at.
Director Chen’s eyes were moving, his sight moved from Chen Shuang He to the direction of the stairs. Chen Shuang He understood, Ning Ning had just silently walked past him from behind like a fleeting shadow, but he had not noticed it at all.
As his mind wandered, he sang off-key.
As he was about to continue singing, a voice slowly rang out from upstairs, “I am the partner born of fairest line, for whom you wait as the river of years rolls past.”
It was exactly the line he had just sung.
Correcting the exact part where he was off-key.
Chen Shuang He was mildly stunned, then he laughed coldly in his heart. You dare to teach me how to sing as if you were the true Phantom even when you have never received any singing training?
For the sake of this movie, he had especially hired a singing teacher and trained hard for three days!
There was a minute left.
“Everywhere I have searched in compassion for you, secluded in your chamber.”
“There, just beyond this railing, peony lined against the mound of weather Tai-hu rocks.”
“Somewhere at some past time you and I met. Now we behold each other in solemn awe but do not say in this lovely place we should and speak no word.”1
…How could this be!
As Chen Shuang He sang, he became more and more fearful, more and more disheartened. He was definitely not a professional singer, but she should not be able to sing so professionally! He had only learned how to sing for three days. His teacher praised him saying that he was gifted, that if he wasn’t an actor, he could go into the opera business, but what was going on with her?
She followed up every line he sang.
It was fine if she was worse or at around the same level as he was, but the problem was that…she was better than him on every line, more professional than he was. The difference was so big that it was like she was the real Phantom, correcting his singing line by line, teaching him how to sing line by line.
Chen Shuang He turned his head abruptly and shouted towards the direction of the spiral staircase, “Who’s there!”
There were ten seconds left.
Chen Shuang He rushed up the stairs as he finished shouting.
This was not something from <<Seeing Heaven>> at all, thus Ning Ning was taken aback for a moment before she turned and ran. Chen Shuang He caught up to her, he opened his arms and finally seized her by the waist.
“I caught you.” He placed his chin on her temple and panted.
“… ” She fell silent in his arms, then quietly asked, “…Aren’t you afraid of me?”
“I’m not afraid.” He touched her face as he said that. He wanted to turn her face over. Singing didn’t determine how good an actor was, nor did knowledge of the opera determine how good an actor was. Those were but bonuses, the most important thing was still her acting skills.
…He didn’t believe Ning Ning had that. The truth would be known as long as she turned her face over to look at the camera. She was still that good trash who could make no other expressions besides flaring her nostrils.
“…You should be scared.” Ning Ning suddenly grabbed his unruly hand.
Then, before Chen Shuang He could react, he was hit hard by her other elbow. Just as he bent down, she hit him hard a few more times. He was hit so hard he dropped to his knees.
“There are a lot of bad people in the world.” Her voice rang out from in front of him. It had the cold and cruel style of the Phantom. “Learning to fear will allow you to live a little longer.”
Chen Shuang He coughed twice then looked up at her.
He had thought that he would see a smile full of hatred and madness, the same smile from the last moment of the <<Ugly Girl>> audition.
But that was not it…
Standing before him was not the Ugly Girl, neither was it Ning Ning. It was another woman.
She was not mad with despair, she also did not flare her nostrils. She had her hand lifted to cover the right side of her face, looking at him as if he was a fearless and ignorant child. She looked a little amused, a little curious, a little gentle, but it did not have a shred of ill-intent.
“Stop following me.” She raised her (other) hand and pointed behind him, “Go back.”
As she said that, she turned around and left, walking away silently, like a ghost who was preparing to plunge back into the darkness alone.
Her back view was simply too lonely, Chen Shuang He shouted uncontrollably, “Wait!”
She paused in her tracks and looked back with one eye, covering the other eye with her right hand. The single eye shined slightly in the darkness, it had a trace of unseen joy and expectations. It was as if it was saying, ‘You still want to get close to me even knowing how scary I am?’
Scary and pure, unsociable and lonely, not trusting humans but wishing to be saved by them…The Ning Ning in front of him, was this type of scary and pitiful monster, the Phantom of the theater.
Director Chen suddenly shouted.
She suddenly turned back into Ning Ning.
“I’m sorry I’m sorry!” Ning Ning came up to Chen Shuang He and apologised profusely, “Did I hurt you just now?”
Chen Shuang He shook his head. He looked at her with a complicated expression. If this was a coincidence, it was impossible for her to get in and out of a character that quickly, so as to say…this was her true acting skills? Impossible! Impossible! Impossible…… Chen Shuang He’s heart was flooded by a million impossibles.
“Alright, come to my study, we will have an in-depth discussion about the Phantom character.” Director Chen told Ning Ning with a pleasant smile on his face, then he looked over to Chen Shuang He and narrowed his eyes. “As for you…I think you are better off going back to acting in <<Ugly Girl>>, the way you are right now is not suitable to act as Lu Yun He.”
Chen Shuang He froze on the spot.
In the study, Director Chen started talking just as Ning Ning sat down, “Your Phantom still has some flaws.”
Ning Ning was surprised, “What flaws?”
“You are still lacking in charisma.” Director Chen wrote the word phantom on a piece of paper and pointed at it. “The Phantom is a very complicated character. She has a scary side as well as a charismatic side. Let’s put it like this. When she is not angry or is killing anyone, she is a genius. With graceful movements, a moving voice, a mysterious smile, she was more ladylike than any lady, especially when she sings on stage……”
Director Chen paused deliberately and looked at Ning Ning, before saying word for word, “When she smiles, everyone smiles; when she cries, everyone cries.”
Ning Ning took a deep breath, she felt that Director Chen’s opinion of the Phantom was too high…
“You can do it.” Chen Guan Chao stared at her, his eyes had that familiar fanatical look which made chills run down her spine. “You can already portray most of her already, you’re only missing one small bit…Don’t worry, I will help you. I will give it my all to cultivate you, I will definitely turn you into the second Ning Yu Ren!”
It was not until she walked out the front door that Ning Ning realised her back was drenched in cold sweat.
Her phone rang, it was Manager Li Bo Yue.
He pressed her after she answered the call, “How was it?”
“The Phantom is mine.” Ning Ning replied.
“That’s great!” A car whizzed and stopped in front of Ning Ning, Li Bo Yue winded down the window and gave her a thumbs up. “Let’s go! We’ll have a feast to celebrate!”
Ning Ning got into the car, Li Bo Yue impatiently asked her about the audition. She spared no details and laughed bitterly at the end. ”It’s only a remake, Director Chen’s expectation is too high.”
“That is his magnum opus after all.” Li Bo Yue casually said, “He can’t make it worse.”
“What did you say?” Ning Ning thought he was joking with her, so she laughed to go along with him. “A crap film, when did it become his magnum opus?”
“…Lady, you can only make this kind of joke in front of me. Never let anyone else hear this, understand?” Li Bo Yue was stunned, his expression turned serious.
Ning Ning laughed twice, but her smile slowly faded when she saw how serious he remained. She asked doubtfully, “What is it? You don’t think the first version of <<Phantom of the Theater>> was crappy?”
“Look it up on Baidu1 yourself.” Li Bo Yue couldn’t be bothered with her anymore.
Ning Ning opened Baidu on her mobile phone and keyed in <<Phantom of the Theater>>. Once the results were loaded she had a shock.
1Lyrics from the play <<Peony Pavilion>>, source for the lyrics are here.
2Chinese equivalent of Google, link for the website.