“You’ve been to that place?” Ning Ning let it slip out of her mouth, she immediately bit down on her lip as she said that.
A trace of light flashed in Shi Zhong Tang’s eyes, seemingly saying ‘sure enough’.
“I’ve been there.” He smiled at her. “It was a movie titled <<Fraud>>. The movie was based on a true story which happened three years ago. I saw it on the news. Three swindlers wanted to escape from the country after swindling a huge sum of money, they were betrayed by someone while escaping and they died. After I entered the theater, suddenly there was only darkness in front of me, then—I became one of the swindlers…”
Ning Ning unwittingly sat down and listened to his story.
Shi Zhong Tang could do crosstalk for a living if he wasn’t an actor. He recounted his experience vividly. Ning Ning could not help but laugh when he said that, for the sake of causing confusion, he cross-dressed as a pregnant woman and shouted, “My water broke!” Then he managed to cheat a driver, a passenger and even an old Chinese medicine practitioner onboard the car, the three of them sent him to the obstetrician.
…Wait a minute! Who am I, where am I, what the heck am I doing? Why am I suddenly listening to a crosstalk1?
“Cough!” Ning Ning hastily shook her head, she shook the image that almost made her laugh out of her head, then told him with a serious face, “You should not have entered that place.”
Shi Zhong Tang, “Why not?”
Ning Ning, “You just vomited like a pregnant woman and you’re asking me why not?”
“What about you?” Shi Zhong Tang reflected the question back at her, “Have you ever vomited like a pregnant woman?”
“…” Ning Ning stared at him, she did not know how to answer him. Suddenly, someone knocked on the door. Ning Ning walked over and opened it. A service staff from the hotel was standing at the door, he was holding a stack of magazines and newspapers. The stack was so high that it blocked his face, only his voice could be heard from behind it, “Is Mr Shi here? This is what he requested.”
Ning Ning brought the stack of magazines and newspapers into the room and placed them beside a certain sick person.
<<Economic Weekly>>, <<Some City’s Evening Newspaper>>… they were all old magazines and newspapers. He flipped through them, then handed a page of a newspaper to Ning Ning.
Ning Ning looked at him with doubt before taking it out of his hands.
On the black and white paper was a huge word—<<Fraud>>.
She was stunned. She skimmed the contents and realised that this was a newspaper from three years back. The three swindlers tried to escape with the money, one of them turned himself in and survived, the other two died.
“Everything was true. I changed the plot of the movie, which in turn changed reality.” Shi Zhong Tang combed his hair with both his hands, his eyes sparkled with excitement. “This is simply…”
“Too scary.” Ning Ning put the newspaper down.
“Too interesting.” Shi Zhong Tang gave his thigh a pat.
Both of them were taken aback, then they looked at each other.
This was the first time the two of them got to know each other, or you could say, the first time they saw the other side of the other, the true selves under the beautiful wrappings.
Shi Zhong Tang started laughing. “So you’re actually a coward.”
“Thanks, courageous dumb dumb.” Ning Ning returned the newspaper to him.
The two of them parted, but the issue had not been dealt with.
“…Big Sis.” Wen Yu climbed onto a chair opposite her during dinner, his fair tender hand was holding an orange while he looked at her with his pitch black eyes. “Did Brother do anything dangerous?”
Ning Ning froze and thought a little, before deciding to shirk the responsibility. “If you are really worried about him, you can tell Director Shi. Let Director Shi watch over him.”
“Papa is doing something very dangerous.” Wen Yu played with the orange in his hand.
Ning Ning gasped. Dir-Director Shi, don’t tell me you too…
“I just found out Papa had been eating chocolates behind our backs. This much chocolate.” He used his hands to draw a big circle in the air, then sighed with melancholy, “He will get too fat to be able to walk.”
Ning Ning, “…”
“Can you tell me if you find out that brother is doing anything dangerous? Right, this is for you.” Wen Yu reached out and offered the peeled mandarin to Ning Ning.
“What is this?” Ning Ning smiled at him. “Are you bribing me?”
Wen Yu gently shook his head. He looked at the drumstick and fatty meat in her mealbox. “Dinner is too greasy, you can have this orange.”
After he finished talking, he climbed down from the chair and ran away.
Although his demeanour had changed a lot, he was still the gentle little angel on the inside, he could not help but help others.
Ning Ning’s vision slowly shifted from the direction he left in to the orange on the table. She told herself, “It’s useless even if you call me big sis sweetly, I won’t go. Don’t think about buying me over with just an orange, I possess an iron will…”
Midnight, entrance of Life Theater.
Shi Zhong Tang turned around, the corner of his mouth curved upwards, his smile was charming and mischievous. “Wow, why are you here?”
…It was only an orange, why did she come? Ning Ning hated the orange and hated herself. She rushed over with rage, grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Let’s go, it would be too late if we don’t go now.”
“What’s wrong?” Shi Zhong Tang smiled at her meekly, but his feet remained rooted to the spot.
“…We are like a fountain of youth in the eyes of the masked people!” Ning Ning’s patience for him was running thin. She used to think that this man was casual and elegant, now she thought that he was nothing but a nuisance! She told him about the candle analogy the Doorman had told her and concluded with, “In other words, if a masked person were to find us…”
Just as she said that, a masked person walked out from behind the doorman-less entrance. He looked like he was trying to escape. He reached his head out and looked to the left and right, his vision fell onto Shi Zhong Tang not far from him. He was slightly taken aback and shouted, “Damn! The person from last night is here again!”
The entrance was slammed shut, a lot of noise came from within the theater. Ning Ning seemed to have heard something heavy being dragged across the floor…They couldn’t have blocked off the entrance right?
Ning Ning slowly turned over and looked at the source of the laughter. She felt a wave of anger. “What’s there to be pleased about?”
Shi Zhong Tang’s shoulder trembled. “Hehehehe…”
I can’t take this anymore! Whoever wants to save him can do it! I’m leaving!!
“Hey!” Shi Zhong Tang shouted from behind her, “You came looking for me even though you are scared. You actually quite like me, right?”
“Ptui!” Ning Ning shouted without turning back, “You can die as you please! I don’t care about you anymore!”
“Although I wasted my trip here tonight, but…” Shi Zhong Tang put both his hands in his pockets. He followed behind her leisurely while beaming with joy, “To be able to see such a cute side of you, it was worth it!”
“Ptui! Ptui, again! Ptu–cough, cough, cough…” Ning Ning spat with too much force that she choked on her own saliva.
This mood carried over to the next day of filming.
This was the gist of the scene for the day.
Yang Guifei had body odour, Napoleon was short, everyone had their flaws no matter how beautiful or noble a person was. This was (even) more apparent for a normal person. During the journey for the search of the resurrection medicine, the perfect facade of Princess Ling Shan slowly faded, revealing a not-so-beautiful side of her.
“This wall is too dirty, you are not allowed to hang me on it.”
“This inn is for low-class people, can’t you go to a place with more elegance?”
“You’re so dirty, you’re not allowed to get close to me.”
A person’s patience had its limits, even if it was a smittened male lead.
“Then I will hold you.”
“Apologies, we do not have enough funds anymore.”
Shi Zhong Tang suddenly stood up from the chair. He walked briskly to the side of the fire basin and unfurled the painting scroll in his hand. A sudden gust of wind blew past the basin, the flames in the basin danced about and almost burned the back of the painting.
After looking at each other for a moment, Shi Zhong Tang was the first to give in again, but he had not completely calmed down yet. He did not properly keep the painting like he usually would. He just placed it randomly at the side, on a spot of the table that still had some dirt.
The painting was halfway unfurled. Half of the person was showing, the anger on her face had not completely subsided. She stared at Shi Zhong Tang viciously.
As night came, Shi Zhong Tang was in deep sleep while lightly snoring.
The door was opened softly. The innkeeper and her wife came in with a dagger and a sack in each hand.
This inn actually robbed and killed its guests. The couple made business by renting out rooms in the day, then killing and robbing their customers at night.
The person within the painting watched coldly from the side. She only needed to shout to wake Shi Zhong Tang up, he would then be able to handle these two easily with his sword skills.
But why would she?
He would be better off dead, she would be free if he died…
The dagger was inching towards his neck, it looked like he was about to be slashed in the next second.
“Get up!” Ning Ning screamed.
Shi Zhong Tang suddenly opened his eyes. He easily took the dagger out of the person’s hand, put it on the other’s neck and slashed him.
The innkeeper grabbed his neck, but the bleeding would not stop. His mouth made gurgling sounds as he retreated without stopping.
“Husband!” The wife screamed, “Someone! Someone come quickly!”
Sound of footsteps came from the stairs, they didn’t know whether it belonged to friends or foes.
Shi Zhong Tang leapt out of the window, sword in one hand and the painting in the other.
The night was boundless, where was the way forward?
Shi Zhong Tang stumbled as he escaped into an uninhibited alley. He tried to catch his breath as he leaned on the cold wall. He glanced to the side and saw a few torches going past the entrance of the alley. He breathed a sigh of relief as he touched his neck…There was a warm and moist spot.
The innkeeper had left a shallow cut on his neck. He would not have lived through the night if the cut had been any deeper.
He stroked his bloodstained finger as he slowly raised his head and asked, “Why did you wake me up just now?”
A snow-white figure stood in front of him in the pitch-black alley under the pitch-black night.
Ning Ning looked at him with a complicated expression, the snow-white pearl earrings started to sway in the night wind.
“Isn’t it better to let me die?” He smiled at her. “If I die, you would be free.”
The cameraman looked at Director Shi, Director Shi gave him the signal to continue.
This scene should have ended when the two of them looked at each other, but Shi Zhong Tang did not let it end, he added a line on his own accord. He then put his hand down, revealing his bleeding neck as he walked closer to Ning Ning.
Ning Ning looked at him without being able to look away.
He could only raise his bloodstained hand that was not holding his sword. He slowly stroked her cheek, not looking away, he smiled from the bottom of his heart. “You can’t bear for me to die.”
The scene still ended with the two of them looking at each other, but this moment seemed to last forever. Not only were the gazes of the two of them fixed on each other, the gazes of the audience were fixed on them too. Many of them only came back to their senses when Director Shi shouted cut.
No, there was a person who had not come back to his senses.
Chen Guan Chao.
This person who had been dispirited for some time was now squatting beside Director Shi dully. The beer belly of Director Shi was too big, he could not see his feet when he looked down, in the end his belly bumped into Chen Guan Chao’s head and both of them fell over.
Chen Guan Chao did not care about the fall at all, he sat on the ground with his eyes glued to the two actors as he muttered, “Why? Why does the way the two of them act today…feel completely different from yesterday?”
1This is a traditional performing art in Chinese comedy, and one of the most popular elements in Chinese culture. It is typically performed as a dialogue between two performers, or rarely as a monologue by a solo performer (similar to most forms of stand-up comedy in Western culture), or even less frequently, as a group act by multiple performers.