A Different Princess Ling Shan
“Ning Yu Ren has already portrayed the scary part to the extreme. It would be very difficult for you to surpass her in this aspect, so you need to act as a different Princess Ling Shan.” Shi Zhong Tang smiled. “How about a Princess Ling Shan who portrays extreme beauty?”
It sounded reasonable, but when Ning Ning carefully thought about it…Damn, isn’t that a vase?
“You really think this will work?” Ning Ning looked at him with doubt.
“But of course!” Shi Zhong Tang solemnly vowed, “If I were to draw the person I loved, I would definitely draw the most beautiful version of her in my mind. Why would I draw a female ghost to scare myself!”
It sounded reasonable, but upon listening to that last sentence… Ning Ning raised her eyebrow. “So you just want to look for a pretty girl to act with, not a female ghost…”
“Ning Cai Chen’s meeting with Nie Xiao Qian1 at the temple, Xiu Xian’s meeting with White Snake at the broken bridge2. What was the reason for neither of them to not shout demon and to not kill them on the spot? Wasn’t it because both of them were beautiful like a dream, making people like them when they see them?” Shi Zhong Tang smiled. Ning Ning did not know when he had gotten so close to her.
He was so close to the extent that Ning Ning could smell him. It was not cologne, it was not soap either. It was an indescribable smell. It made one feel sensitive, made one’s heart beat faster, made one want to run away yet could not bear to actually do it.
“…The type of girl I like…” He played with a lock of Ning Ning’s hair, his voice in deep baritone. “Let me slowly tell you.”
Ning Ning pushed him away then turned around and ran away.
Shi Zhong Tang didn’t chase after her, he was laughing non-stop behind her.
Ning Ning felt angry from embarrassment. She felt that he was teasing her, to think that she was taking him seriously! He was purely trying to pick her up! She ran even faster, but stopped in her tracks as she turned a corner. She retreated back behind the wall, quietly watching the two people in front of her.
As expected of mother and daughter! Mama was also pestered by a man! And it was a man who was even more horrible to look at!
“You should know me right?” Chen Guan Chao blocked Ning Yu Ren off not letting her go. “I am the scriptwriter and director of <<Phantom of the Theater>>.”
Ning Yu Ren had no choice but to answer in a low voice, “…I know you.”
Chen Guan Chao’s eyes brightened. He adjusted the collar of his suit to make himself look more confident and successful.
“Although the movie had a very high box office and a lot of awards, personally, I’m not actually very satisfied with it.” He looked at Ning Yu Ren with a fanatical gaze. “It can be even more perfect! It requires a perfect actress, a perfect Phantom…Yes, that person is you!”
Upon hearing this, Ning Yu Ren could not bear it any longer, she interrupted him by asking, “Do you remember me?”
Chen Guan Chao was momentarily stumped. He stared at Ning Yu Ren’s face very seriously, but even after looking for a long time he was still confused. “Have we met?”
Ning Yu Ren clenched her fist unbearably, her voice was a little repressed. “Then do you remember Wen Xiao Ning?”
This time Chen Guan Chao finally recalled something, he gasped in surprise. “You actually know this name, this means you were once part of the cast of <<Phantom of the Theater>>? Hold on, I remember now…”
He started to smile, and closed two fingers together and waved them towards her in a dashing manner. “You acted as one of the followers of the female supporting role! I think your name was…”
“Enough!” Ning Yu Ren could not bear it any longer. She pushed him away, attempting to leave, but Chen Guan Chao would not let her. The two of them struggled with each other. Ning Ning took a deep breath and walked out of the corner.
“Hey, Chen Guan Chao.” She lied with a serious face, “Director Shi called for you.”
“Director Shi is looking for me?” Chen Guan Chao believed what Ning Ning said. He left Ning Yu Ren with a ‘I will get back to you later’, then left to find Director Shi.
Once Chen Guan Chao left, Ning Ning immediately grabbed Ning Yu Ren’s hand and winked at her. “Let’s go, I was only tricking him.”
The two of them left hurriedly. After they got to Ning Yu Ren’s room, a sigh came from behind Ning Ning as she closed the door to the room.
“Actually, we met each other three years ago, but he could not recognise me.” Ning Yu Ren muttered, “Because at that time, he only had eyes for a genius actress, he could not see anyone else at all.”
Ning Ning turned back and looked at Ning Yu Ren in shock.
“What’s funny is, he might be looking at me now, but that is because I am imitating that genius actress…” Ning Yu Ren suddenly raised her hand and covered her mouth, realising that she had just said something she shouldn’t have.
She carefully looked towards Ning Ning, her expression looked a little pitiful and had traces of begging. Ning Ning felt a little heartbroken as she looked at Ning Yu Ren.
“You acted really well.” Ning Ning said sincerely, “You acted really really well.”
You portrayed the frightening aspect of the Phantom to the extreme, you portrayed ‘Wen Xiao Ning’ to the extreme, you had already forced a certain ‘genius actress’ to her wits’ end. She could only put in effort on the vase path!
“Maybe I imitated her well enough.” Ning Yu Ren was unaware. She mocked herself then lowered her head, covered her face powerlessly and said, “I don’t have the talent to be an actress at all! I can only imitate others! I am only imitating her non-stop… but I will not be able to surpass her for the rest of my life…”
Ning Yu Ren started crying with her face covered as she said that.
To Ning Ning, looking at Ning Yu Ren now was like looking at her past self. Continuously watching Mama’s movies, continuously imitating her and continuously failing. Slowly, she was labelled ‘talentless’, ‘not as good as Ning Yu Ren’, ‘guaranteed not to last long’.
What was scary was that others thought that way, it was that she herself also slowly started to think that way.
Ning Ning walked over frantically, she reached out to hug Ning Yu Ren. Ning Yu Ren seemed to be shocked by this sudden display of affection, her body froze. She pushed Ning Ning away.
Ning Ning later used the momentum of being pushed away to turn her body, facing Ning Yu Ren with her back so that Ning Yu Ren could not see her slightly reddened eyes. Ning Ning asked Ning Yu Ren with a slightly husky voice, “What do you plan on doing in the future? Continue to imitate that genius actress?”
“…” Ning Yu Ren fell silent for a while, then said, “What else can I do?”
“But if you only imitate her, you can only act in one type of role.” Ning Ning pretended to look outside the window, but her eyes kept turning towards Ning Yu Ren, “You can imitate others…”
“Easy for you to say!” Ning Yu Ren shouted. Her long hair hung loosely, she bit her thumb and murmured, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand at all! The more I imitate her, the more I cannot leave her… It’s like,…like she had come back to life. Always by my side, speaking to me by my ears, I am becoming more and more like her…”
Ning Ning turned her head around frantically. Looking at the state Ning Yu Ren was in at that moment, Ning Ning’s eyes were full of anxiety and worry.
“You are too deep into the character.” Ning Ning sternly said, “It’s very dangerous to continue like this…”
Ning Yu Ren bit her lip and did not say a word. She struggled and hesitated. She was afraid but could not bear to give up…
“Let’s swap roles.” Ning Ning sighed, “You can act as Yan Hong Xiu, I will act as Princess Ling Shan. Let me tell you, the role of Yan Hong Xiu…”
Before Ning Ning could finish, Ning Yu Ren turned over and smiled at her. “Finally revealing your true intentions?”
Ning Ning was stunned.
“Only fear and pain can be etched deeply into people’s mind! My Princess Ling Shan is better than yours!” Ning Yu Ren started smiling gloomily and coldly. It was the Phantom’s type of smile. Not believing in anyone, not trusting anyone. “Leave! This role is mine, I will never let you have it!”
Ning Ning was chased out of the door.
Ning Ning leaned on the door. She slowly looked up to the sky and murmured, “Only fear and pain can be etched deeply into people’s minds?”
There was silence behind her, she did not know if Mama heard what she said.
“Fear and pain, I have experienced those too.” No matter if Ning Yu Ren was listening or not, Ning Ning was determined to finish her sentence. “They really etched themselves in my mind…like a razor, or a bowl of dumpling.”
The candlelight flickered. Boss Qu laid on a chair. She was shaving him from his side, he looked at her gently.
Light shone in, Wen Yu quietly squatted outside the wardrobe. He handed over a spoon of hot dumpling over to her.
“…I want to act as Princess Ling Shan.” Ning Ning said, “A Princess Ling Shan who is not as frightening, not as in pain.”
Ning Ning made her way to leave. The door behind her was locked. Ning Yu Ren was leaning on the door with her back, listening to Ning Ning’s footsteps recede. After a long time she said in a deep voice, “You cannot beat me.”
Could beauty surpass ugliness? A Princess Ling Shan who was not as frightening, not as in pain, could that surpass a Princess Ling Shan who was extremely scary and in pain?
Ning Ning did not know.
She just wanted Mama to watch her act that Princess Ling Shan out.
So Ning Ning returned to the study that was used for the rehearsal earlier in the day. Shi Zhong Tang was no longer inside, this made her breathe a sigh of relief. She walked in and reached out to pick up the script she had left behind.
“I want to act as a different Princess Ling Shan.” She told herself, “A beautiful and moving Princess Ling Shan.”
There was not much time left for her, mainly because the rest of the actors would arrive within the next three days, then production would begin. She had to create a different Princess Ling Shan within this period of time.
But what kind of image should she specifically create?
This completely depended on the ability of the actor.
Ning Ning flipped through the script. It was different from the novel, it was even a little dry. There was not much description on the scenes nor the psychology, it was basically a book of lines.
The same line could be paired with countless types of expressions and gestures. Which type would be the best, there would not be notes on it, she would only know by acting them out.
For example this line: Come here.
“Come here.” Ning Ning furrowed her eyebrows in anger, then shook her head, “I’m not collecting a debt.”
“Come here.” Ning Ning had a coquettish look, she bit her lip lightly, then softly made a sound of disgust, “…Come play, Master almost rolled off my tongue.”
“Come here.” Ning Ning said nonchalantly. She paused, feeling like she had captured some of the feeling. She held the script in her hand and paced around the house. She repeated the previous sentence a few more times, it was like she had finally found a hint of the secret to success…
She flipped the pages of the script and switched to another sentence. At the start of the film, Princess Ling Shan was dragged onto the execution ground. The treacherous official gave her another chance because of her good looks. He asked if she was willing to enter his harem.
“I, the dignified Princess Ling Shan, will not condescend myself to serve thieves.” Ning Ning said in a faint voice, as if she was a noble who looked down on this usurper. “Kill me if you want.”
The voice of a man rang out in exasperation from outside the door, “Ungrateful!”
Ning Ning was surprised. She glanced towards the voice and saw Shi Zhong Tang at the doorway under the setting sun. He turned his face towards her and smiled. “Go on.”
…Although she did not know what reason he had for helping her, having someone to act with was a good thing. Ning Ning paused for a moment. With the book in one hand, the other hand behind her back, even though she was on the execution grounds about to receive the sentence by the axe, she still did not panic. She did not cry nor beg, proud and unyielding, elegant and noble. She closed her eyes and said, “Do it.”
Shi Zhong Tang switched from the treacherous official to the executioner behind her. He breathed heavily twice, before he finally resolutely said, “I have parents and children at home, I simply dare not go against the new Emperor. Princess, forgive me!”
A few seconds later, he switched from acting out the executioner to the male lead. His voice was calm, but if you listened carefully, you would discover that huge rage and grief were bubbling under that calmness. He said in a low voice, “A thousand silvers are in the carriage behind me, where is her hair?”
As they continued acting, Ning Ning had only these words in her mind—He’s so good!
She already felt that it was difficult to act out one character, but he took on every other character that was not hers. He switched between characters extremely quickly, but still managed to act extremely well. He was not even holding a script, he couldn’t have memorised every line of every character right?
He was obviously a genius, but still worked so hard, he really made things hard for ordinary people.
“Don’t get distracted.” Shi Zhong Tang interrupted her train of thought and smiled. “Go on.”
Next, it was the scene from this morning.
Ning Ning walked to the side of the table. She bent down and picked up a drawing paper from the floor and placed it on the table, then climbed onto it. Next, she had to portray (Princess Ling Shan) walking out of the painting.
Mama chose to slowly crawl out like a molting snake. Although it looked scary, it was very eye-catching. What could she do so that she could be even more eye-catching?
“No, don’t dwell on this.” Ning Ning closed her eyes. “What I want to act out now is my own Princess Ling Shan.”
Ning Ning gradually loosened her body and loosened her thoughts. The study gradually became a mausoleum, the old and broken down bookshelf became a pavilion full of ancient treasures, famous paintings hung on the bare walls, even the table below her became red sandalwood flooring, her dress and palace waistband fell onto the floor.
How did she end up on a table?
Ning Ning slowly opened her eyes. She frowned out of awkwardness. Being of royal descent, she did not know how to climb onto a table. Now that she was on one, she did not know how to get down. She turned her head slightly and looked at Shi Zhong Tang who was leaning on the door. She raised her hand and ordered him like it was the natural thing to do, “Come here.”
Shi Zhong Tang was mildly shocked. He smiled and got away from the door. He walked up to her. However, he did not help her up by holding her hand. He held her in a princess carry instead and asked her with tender affection, “How would you like to thank me?”
Not only did Ning Ning not thank him, she pushed his arms away. Once her feet landed on the floor, she immediately walked out of the door. It was not because she really did not care about him at all. A beam of moonlight illuminated her body, she turned her head slowly under the moonlight. She opened the script in front of her face like a fan, revealing only a pair of sparkling eyes gazing at him, then slightly blinked and elegantly bowed a little to him.
The scene was like a dream and fantasy, like the moon in the water, a flower in the mirror.
Shi Zhong Tang stared at Ning Ning blankly for a moment. He suddenly smiled. He followed his heart and reached out his hand to pull her into his arms, like holding the moon in his hands, like getting the scent of flowers on him. He leaned down and planted a kiss on the corner of her lips with a smile.
The next day, the room was buzzing with noise. A group of people were bickering with each other. One of them turned over and looked towards Shi Zhong Tang and exclaimed in surprise, “What happened to your face?”
“Nothing much.” Shi Zhong Tang touched his right cheek, “There was a mosquito last night.”
At the end of the discussion, Director Shi looked at Ning Ning and Ning Yu Ren who were standing in the midst of everyone and said, “The one who will act as Princess Ling Shan is…”
1These are popular characters in various Chinese fictional works, where Nie Xiao Qian is a female ghost who eventually has a romantic relationship with Ning Cai Chen.
2Similarly, these are characters from another Chinese story, Legend of the White Snake, where a man falls in love with a supernatural being.