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A Thousand Faces

19

Chapter 19

1

Minutes before Sangjun Yoo picks up a certain script and delivers it to the conference room.

The purpose of filming the pre-screening of candidates was to make a behind-the-scenes segment to be aired during the show.

“I’m contestant number 234, Yoojin Kim. Thank you for having me.”

As Sangjun entered the studio, camera in hand, he found himself watching the audition of a teenage girl in school uniform. Due to the overwhelming number of contestants, the judges’ expressions showed little interest. Sangjun felt much the same way.

Since he wasn’t judging himself, he was prepared to film a few shots and leave.

But then…

Huh? Did they give her different instructions?

Sangjun stopped in his tracks, intrigued by a unique acting style he had never seen before. The contestant checked the keywords and began her impromptu act without uttering a single word, using only her body language.

Silently, Sangjun observed her performance. It was more than simple acting; it was a work of art.

The initially indifferent judges began to sit up and pay attention.

The judge who had expected her to be eliminated right from the get-go thought to himself, What am I looking at? Lost in the performance, it took him a moment to snap back into reality. Yoojin Kim had already run well over a minute by then.

In the hushed studio, the only sounds were the rustle of Yoojin’s clothes, the echo of her footsteps, and the rhythm of her breath. To the judges, each movement was like a line of emotional dialogue.

I already knew Starmaker was good, but this?

Although the contestant’s overall acting ability wasn’t flawless, the way she expressed each emotion was remarkable.

If it had been a normal performance with dialogue, it probably wouldn’t have made as much of an impression, mused a judge.

Another judge had a surprising thought. Wait. Could the whole thing about the lost voice be part of the performance? Maybe it’s so she can focus on her expressiveness!

The room filled with a collective gasp of admiration.

She’s not making any clichéd choices with the body language either. How did she manage to capture such details?

After the performance, Yoojin was left panting, trying to catch her breath. As she stumbled over her closing statement, she realized the judges didn’t have the capacity to respond either.

Why aren’t they saying anything? I guess no dialogue at all was risky.

Anxiety clenched her chest as she waited for their evaluation.

The judges, looking like they had been hit on the head, were all speechless. The impact of those few minutes was overwhelming.

Finally, one judge found his voice. “How did you come up with such a concept? For someone with your limited experience, ‘genius’ seems the only word fitting for this level of creativity and skill.”

Yoojin, struck by the comment, couldn’t hide her confusion. This was more than just an evaluation; this was an expression of admiration.

Genius? Me?

Somehow turned from a normal schoolgirl into an acting prodigy, Yoojin could only respond with a stammered thank you. She bowed deeply, then left the studio in a daze.

“Hey, there.”

Sangjun approached the girl, a smile plastered on his face. He had seen her audition, as well as her screening interview.

Apparently, an unknown boy around her age had helped her. Yoojin unfolded the script and told Sangjun the details of what had happened during the waiting period.

The more he listened to the girl’s description, the clearer the figure became in Sangjun’s mind. There was no doubt about it.

When he gave the girl a detailed description of the boy’s appearance and demeanor, she confirmed it with an enthusiastic, “Yes! That’s him!.”

Of course. It was Junwoo Han.

Following Jungil’s instructions to keep an eye on the kid, Sangjun had tried to trail him discreetly with a camera. Despite attempting to capture footage of Junwoo rehearsing, the majority of the time, he sat in the corner of the hall, gazing blankly into space. There was nothing worth filming or mentioning.

“I came to find you as soon as I discovered this,” Sangjun told Jungil, now in the conference room.

Jungil flipped through the script. “Hmm, I see.”

“Oh, and this,” Sangjun said, abruptly pushing the camera monitor toward Jungil.

The small screen showed footage from Yoojin Kim’s audition.

After watching the clip, Jungil began to grasp the context of the scrawls the boy had made in the script. Seeing Yoojin play out the actions made him realize the marks weren’t merely meaningless scribbles.

“Did he do all of this himself?”

“It seems like it. He’s had professional training, hasn’t he?”

“Remarkable,” Jungil said. “For someone from such a humble background to exhibit this level of talent… Being mentored by Junho Gil must have made a big difference. His observational skills are really something.”

What Yoojin Kim had managed to express was just a fraction of what Junwoo’s detailed scribbling had conveyed. Jungil Park, like everyone else, found the complex notations difficult to decipher.

Intrigued, he paused to scan them, then asked, “Where are they now?”

“By ‘they,’ do you mean…?”

The main competition had its own set of judges. This was the part that had caused Jungil the most trouble during production.

The preliminary judging was a lengthy process, and with various miscellaneous individuals participating, it was initially set up with judges at the level of typical experts. However, the final round featured a panel of veteran actors and esteemed directors, all household names in their own right.

Following the publication of news articles about the panel, their involvement garnered immense attention. The massive turnout was mainly due to their star power.

***

Three of these celebrity judges were currently enjoying dinner at a high-end whiskey bar in the upscale neighborhood of Cheongdam. It was quite a distance from COEX, where the auditions were in full swing.

The dim lighting cast a soft glow on the table, showcasing several expensive bottles of whiskey.

The actor Cheong-myeong took a sip from his glass. Having gained fame from his debut thanks to his charm and looks, he was the most popular with the public among Actor Kingdom’s final judges.

“Today’s the pre-screening, isn’t it?”

“Yep. Here’s hoping we come across some real talent,” replied Daewon Gu, a seasoned director renowned in the Korean film industry. The thought of his upcoming project, only a few months away, cast a look of concern on his face.

Seemingly of the same mind, Cheong-myeong turned to him. “The winner will be cast in your film. Even if he is Chairman Kang’s son, he’s still just a newbie. Is that okay with you?”

“I know, I know. Fingers crossed he doesn’t ruin the film we’ve poured our hearts into.”

“Hah. So you are worried. I guess that’s understandable.”

Daewon Gu’s participation in the program was a result of a contract with the chairman of the Daemyung Group, Geonim Kang. Essentially, the chairman would fund his movie in exchange for securing the lead part for his son. Despite rumors of Hyeok Kang’s talent, Daewon had yet to see if he truly fit the role.

“At least the marketing will be guaranteed,” Cheong-myeong reassured him. “Having the winner of Actor Kingdom is bound to draw a lot of eyes.”

“Your words are somewhat disheartening, my friend. Since when have my films not caught the public’s eye, with or without a show?”

“Right. Haha, of course. By the way, isn’t the prize a billion won?”

“One billion? For a show with our names attached, it feels a bit modest. Should’ve been ten billion, at least, right?”

As the jokes continued, easing the tension, in walked Jungil Park.

Upon spotting an acquaintance, Daewon raised his hand. “Hey, Park. Have a seat. Has our team leader been hard at work? Things must be a madhouse over there, huh?”

“You have no idea,” Jungil replied, laughing. He rubbed his temple as he took a seat. “I think I’m losing my mind.”

“What’s that?”

Daewon nodded toward the script in Jungil’s hand.

Eyeing the cover, Cheong-myeong pursed his lips as if questioning why the production team leader would bring an acting academy script to a place like this.

Jungil Park cautiously began to broach the topic.

“The truth is, we’ve found quite the character for this season. I’m keeping him on board for the initial stages while he proves himself useful.”

“A character, eh?”

Jungil began to tell them about Junwoo, detailing everything from his plans for utilizing the boy’s talents to his first impression of him. He even told them the story about the script he held.

As the conversation took a serious turn, Cheong-myeong, seemingly uninterested in hearing more, waved his hand. “Why’re we talking shop here? Let’s save that for the next team dinner.”

Before Jungil could respond, a new voice cut in gently.

“Please, continue.”

Although the voice wasn’t loud, the table fell silent immediately. It was Sungrae Jo, a veteran actor whose career spanned more than five decades.

At over seventy years old, Sungrae Jo had carved an indelible mark on the South Korean film industry. His status meant that everyone tread carefully around him.

Until now, he had been quietly sitting among the two judges, solemnly sipping his whiskey. Yet, he exuded an aura of authority that neither could match.

Cheong-myeong gulped.

The sudden interest from such an esteemed figure prompted Jungil to eagerly share more details.

As he listened, Sungrae Jo, who was flipping through the script page by page, suddenly asked, “Where is this young man from, and what was he doing before?”

“Oh, he’s just a country kid, so we don’t know much. I think he was taught by Junho Gil.”

“Junho Gil…?”

Sungrae Jo narrowed his eyes. Junho Gil was a respected actor and a junior he knew well.

He knows his craft, but I find it hard to believe that he’s the one who taught the boy this.

Sungrae remained silent as he passed the script back. It seemed they wouldn’t find out more today.

Cheong-myeong, thinking the interest had waned, interjected once again. “He’s one interesting kid. I heard he’ll make a brief appearance at the beginning and then disappear. I guess it’s just a fame grab.”

“Even KOS’s CEO Jaewon is already eyeing him.”

“Seriously? That picky man? This show is shaping up to be quite the big deal.”

“The winner will probably be Geonim Kang’s son, and this kid will debut as an idol. It’s like a star incubator. Well done, Park!”

“Haha, it’s nothing, really. I do my best.”

In their minds, they were all envisioning Actor Kingdom’s set narrative from the beginning to the finale.

***

Meanwhile, the last contestant appeared before the judges. It was late evening.

Tired and hungry after a long wait, Junwoo resembled a zombie. He skimmed through his resume, which consisted of a few lines detailing his acting experience. There was nothing particularly noteworthy.

One of the judges, exhausted from the long day of evaluations, yawned as he looked over Junwoo’s seemingly sparse qualifications.

Just then, Junwoo’s stomach gave a loud growl.

I’m starving. I wonder if Mansik’s eaten.

As Junwoo pondered what might be for dinner, the judges began to scrutinize his resume.

One of them leaned over and whispered, “That’s him. The kid who’s going to be the main character of the first episode. Team leader’s orders.”

“Oh.”

His name did ring a bell. The judge who had been yawning nodded in recognition. I guess I don’t have to do or say much. I’ll just give a lukewarm response and put him through.

“They asked for the most difficult keywords for him. To see him struggle, probably.”

“Oh, really? A twisted man, that Jungil.”

The judge grinned. What had the kid ever done to him? Nevertheless, he had to comply with instructions. Hiding his reluctance, he selected two of the most challenging keywords.

As the moment approached, the judge felt a pang of curiosity and re-checked the resume.

Why is it almost empty?

He swore he had seen an article about Junwoo before.

The judge shook his head. A normal person would have plastered the name “Junho Gil” all over their resume. But aside from one line about being in a play, there was nothing special.

Maybe he’s trying to show that he doesn’t want to be overshadowed by Junho Gil. If that’s the case, I kind of like this kid.

The judge, wondering if there was another motive, decided to test him. “Do you have any experience or accomplishments that aren’t listed here?”

“No. There’s nothing else.”

“Nothing? That’s it? No further comments?” the curious judge continued. “Hmm. It seems like you might be holding back on something. Tell me. You shared a stage with Junho Gil, didn’t you?”

Junwoo looked puzzled. “Does sharing a stage count as experience?”

The judge was taken aback. He could see what the kid was getting at.

Is he that arrogant that he wants to place his career on the same level as Junho Gil?

Still looking slightly confused, Junwoo stood under the judges’ scrutiny.

He’s not even nervous.

The judge who had asked the question scanned Junwoo’s appearance. There was certainly nothing to criticize. It was clear that the production team leader had put some thought into his choice.

His curiosity grew. The judge had seen many talented contestants, but this one was an enigma. He found himself looking forward to seeing him in action.

“Alright, let’s see what you’ve got.”

Ding.

Two keywords appeared on the screen.

***

The next morning, Jungil Park sat in the production team’s office. As soon as Sangjun came in, he asked cheerily, “How did Junwoo Han do?”

“The crew haven’t sent over the footage yet, so I haven’t seen it myself.”

“Do you think I put too much pressure on him? I hope he showed them what he’s capable of.”

“One of the judges did say something…”

“What?”

Sangjun recalled the judge’s words and, in particular, his bewildered expression.

“He said he’s never seen anything like that before. I don’t quite get what he meant by that, though.”

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