The theater stood out amongst the tube-shaped apartments surrounding it. The Doorman at the entrance stood out even more. He looked like he did not care about how well the theater was doing, he was always unpleasant.
“You don’t have a ticket, you cannot…” As he was halfway through the sentence, the Doorman looked at the movie ticket that was presented in front of him.
It was no ordinary ticket, nor was it an even-numbered designated ticket, it was also not an odd-numbered designated ticket.
It was a very special ticket.
There was a stamp of a head on it, the head was the portrait of a man. If you looked closely, it included a name: Zhou Ai Guo, a name that had nothing special to it.
The Doorman took a glance then quickly looked up. “Where did you get this ticket?”
“Someone gave it to me?” Shi Zhong Tang said with a smile.
“Where is that person?” The Doorman who was originally sitting on the steps of the entrance had stood up.
“He ran off, but I’m guessing he didn’t go far. He should be peeking at us from somewhere nearby.” Shi Zhong Tang looked around as he said that. He finally stuck out his lips towards a direction and said, “Is that him?”
A white shadow flew past a broken street lamp. Upon closer inspection, it was the man in the smiling mask. He took a glance at Shi Zhong Tang as he ran for his life, he ended up stumbling on a bump on the road.
The Doorman laughed coldly and chased after him.
“Hey!” Shi Zhong Tang waved the ticket at the Doorman. “You don’t want the ticket anymore?”
The Doorman cursed under his breath and flicked his hand.
The ticket in Shi Zhong Tang’s hand suddenly caught fire. He exclaimed and loosened his fingers, the ticket fell to his feet and he stepped on it a few times.“Watch out for fire hazards, watch out for fire hazards.”
“One person per ticket, invalid upon admission!” The Doorman’s voice rang out from a distance, his back view had vanished when Shi Zhong Tang looked up again.
Shi Zhong Tang let out a laugh.
Although he accepted the ticket from the Smiling Mask, it didn’t mean that he had to follow the latter’s instructions. The reason he came to Life Theater was to see if the ticket would really allow him to enter.
It didn’t matter if he could not enter. The Smiling Mask was scared to enter the theater even though he had a ticket, that clearly indicated that the theater had something he wanted, and something he was afraid of—for example, the Doorman who was chasing him like a rabbit? He could enter even when the Doorman was attempting to catch the Masked Man.
“Good luck my man, it’s up to you to crack down on ticket scalpers!” Shi Zhong Tang shouted insincerely towards the direction of the Doorman. He turned around and walked towards the theater. Just as he was about to enter, he stopped in his tracks and whistled at the poster on the wall.
Starring: Zhou Ai Guo
There were three men in the poster. They were standing by a cliff, holding onto boxes full of cash. Countless guns were pointed at them.
The face on the leftmost side was a little familiar, it looked vaguely like the portrait on the ticket.
Shi Zhong Tang turned back and walked into the theater.
A group of masked people welcomed him passionately. They were wearing clothes from different eras, wearing all kinds of masks and sporting all kinds of accents.
“Please follow me, customer.” A little lady in a Tang dynasty court lady mask said, “Here is your seat.”
Shi Zhong Tang looked at her with a smile. He suddenly reached out to take off her mask.
But he was unable to do so, it was as if the mask was a part of her face.
“Please don’t do that.” The little lady pushed his hand away. “My mask cannot be removed.”
He did not ask her why it could not be removed, instead he skillfully asked, “How do I remove it? I want to look at your face.”
The little lady was taken aback, she looked up at him. All she could see was a pair of amorous eyes which looked almost emotionless. No one knew if he meant what he said. She stammered for a while and answered, “Wait for my movie to air…”
Someone by her side gave her a tug before she could finish, thus she quickly stopped talking.
Shi Zhong Tang did not make things difficult for her anymore. He was in no hurry to watch the movie at all, on the contrary, he was more interested in the staff. He tried to take off their masks as he walked past each of them, but he failed to take off a single one.
Finally a staff member could not bear it anymore and told him, “Please return to your seat, customer. The movie is about to start.”
“Relax, relax, I want to look around first.” Shi Zhong Tang waved his hand at him. He continued to randomly walk around in the theater. Suddenly, he turned back and asked the staff members who were following him, “Can you guys not do anything to me?”
A few of the staff members had already lost their patience, most of the others were largely unhappy. If this was another establishment, they would have started scolding him if they had not chased him out, but they only followed him with a look of disdain.
Shi Zhong Tang narrowed his eyes at them for a while, he abruptly turned around and ran towards the back.
“You cannot go in there!” The staff members rushed over desperately. Unfortunately, Shi Zhong Tang was used to hiding from his dad since his childhood. On top of that, he starred in a wuxia1 film, he was extremely agile. He found a way out of the crowd of people and broke into the projection room.
What would he see? A projectionist wearing black framed glasses? A projector as old as the lanterns at the entrance? A wall of female celebrity posters? A shelf full of videotapes?
The moment he opened the door to the room, he saw a man in a prison uniform.
The man had his back to Shi Zhong Tang, he took something off his face with both his hands, then pressed it against the old projector in front of him.
He slowly turned back upon hearing movement behind him.
Countless hands reached out from behind Si Zhong Tang, dragging him back before he could take a good look at the person’s face. In the end he only saw one thing clearly—masks.
There were no films or tapes in the projection room. It was filled with masks from the floor up to the ceiling.
“Alright!” The staff members pushed Shi Zhong Tang down onto his seat amidst the flurry and confusion. One of them said with gritted teeth, “The movie has begun. Enjoy!”
“Ok, ok, ok.” Shi Zhong Tang smiled absent-mindedly, he was still thinking about what happened in the projection room. As the opening theme rang out beside his ear, he slowly began to lose control of his hands, his feet, and his body. He could not help but open his eyes wide, watching the sentence appearing on the screen.
<<The Person Within the Painting>> production team, the next day.
Ning Ning looked at the side of Shi Zhong Tang’s face strangely. Was it her misconception? She felt that his face was especially pale today, it was as if he had contracted a serious illness overnight.
“Li Lang.” They were still in the middle of filming. She temporarily suppressed the doubts she had and put on the airs of Princess Ling Shan. She asked him coldly, “Do you know that by doing this, you have to pay a huge price?”
The scene today was titled <<Price>>.
For the sake of allowing Princess Ling Shan to leave the painting, for the sake of reviving the dead, the male lead decided to collect the ingredients for the revival medicine, which included the dirt of the imperial mausoleum, the hair of Princess Ling Shan, pieces of the imperial jade seal and more. Any one of those items were enough to get his possessions confiscated and his family exterminated ten thousand times.
“I know.” But before getting his possessions confiscated and his family exterminated, Shi Zhong Tang had already paid a price. He pulled out a dagger from his waist and slashed himself on the face. A bloodstain spanning from the left to the right of his face emerged, destroying his handsome face. He looked back and smiled at her. “No one would know who I am even if I get caught like this.”
Ning Ning choked, seemingly frightened by his smile. She used a fan to cover her face after a while and mocked him, “Even if you don’t get your possessions confiscated and family exterminated, you cannot escape death.”
He fell silent for a moment, before quietly repeating her sentence, “…cannot escape death?”
The red lips behind the fan curled up. She thought she had gotten a hold of his weakness. Just as she was about to take advantage of it, he suddenly laughed, turned back and walked towards her.
Another wave of white fog billowed.
Ning Ning who had been standing on the table had vanished again, leaving only the painting of Princess Ling Shan.
Shi Zhong Tang picked a brush from the brush rack. He dipped it in the ink slab then started painting on it. The day had turned to night before he finally put down the brush and said with a smile, “Done.”
A new person was added to the painting which originally only had Princess Ling Shan.
The person stood on the bridgehead, his sleeves were fluttering in the wind, he smiled and gazed at Princess Ling Shan with amorous eyes—he painted himself.
“If I survive, you will survive. We will be together forever.” Shi Zhong Tang smiled at the person within the painting. “If I die, I will accompany you in the painting. We will never be apart.”
He blew at the ink on the paper to dry it after he finished his sentence. Just as he was about to roll up the painting and bring it along in his journey to seek for the medicine, he suddenly furrowed his brows. He held himself up with one arm on the table, his other arm covered his mouth while he started to cough violently.
The whole crew panicked as he fell head first in front of the table.
“Are you alright, Son?!”
“Oh my god, get him to the hospital!”
“Get an ambulance!”
“I’m fine!” Shi Zhong Tang shouted. He grabbed onto Director Shi’s arm and stood up, he flashed a pale smile at everyone. “I’m a little dizzy, maybe it’s the heat. I will rest by the side, the rest of you continue.”
As he walked past Ning Ning, he grabbed her hand and naturally leaned on her shoulder.
Director Shi who had been heartlessly tossed aside, “…”
Ning Ning who did not know what to do, “…”
In the end, Director Shi cleared his throat. “You Ling, you should take him back for him to rest.”
“Oh, ok…” Ning Ning obeyed.
The hotel was not far from where they were. Shi Zhong Tang was not sick to the point where he could not walk. It was just that the reporters who were taking photos while following them were a little annoying. Who knew what they would write for tomorrow’s newspaper. Ning Ning finally sent Shi Zhong Tang back to the hotel with great difficulty. Just as she was about to leave, he held her back by the arm.
“Let go.” Ning Ning would always be serious with him, just like how Princess Ling Shan treated the male lead.
He would always smile at her, it was as if he even liked it when she was angry.
“Tell me.” Shi Zhong Tang laid on the bed, he looked up with a face as pale as paper, his smile a little desolate. “Is my life but a two-hour movie to you?”
1Wuxia, which literally means “martial heroes”, is a genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists in ancient China.