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A Thousand Faces

23

Chapter 23

1

The W Broadcasting Station, production team’s office. Immediately after the filming of Actor Kingdom’s first round.

Jungil put out an urgent call to all team members.

That was my mistake. I never thought it would get to this point with the show put on hold.

Everyone quickly filed into the room.

An emergency meeting was underway. The agenda: to discuss a certain contestant from the filming of the first round.

One of the team members raised an eyebrow as if he knew what was coming. Unfortunately, not having been present on set, he failed to catch the seriousness of Jungil’s expression.

“I heard Hyeok Kang made a splash. If this goes right, we could—”

“Shut it,” Jungil snapped, leaving the others bewildered.

They were all wondering what could have possibly shaken their normally cool-headed leader. Watching Jungil, deep in thought and hashing out plans with Sangjun Yoo, the team was on edge.

“We’re just kicking off the show, and any wrong move could tank the entire plot.”

“If it hits the air like this, all eyes will be on him, and that could spell trouble…”

Jungil feared Junwoo’s impact.

Despite his initial confidence, the collaboration of Actor Kingdom with various companies was now hanging by a thread, all because of one young contestant. If Jungil didn’t handle this carefully, it could do serious damage to his career.

“We’ll have to do something before it gets to that.”

He’d never been in a situation like this before, and he was unaware of how to proceed. However, his gut told him they needed to distance that kid from Hyeok Kang quickly.

And his chairman father, Geonim Kang, would surely have something to say on the matter.

Then, a lightbulb went off in Jungil’s head. He turned to the oblivious team member from earlier.

“You said that drama KOS is currently planning is by Eunyoung Lee, right?”

“Yes, sir. They’ve allocated a hefty budget for production to spotlight new talents.”

“Set up a meeting with them, pronto.”

“A meeting?”

“Yeah, get on it. And tell them to keep the lead role open.”

“What? But I heard the lead roles were already locked down with KOS’s rookies.”

“It won’t be an issue. He’ll be going over there soon anyway. Just let the CEO know I’ll be meeting with him.”

The team member looked confused but hurried out of the conference room at Jungil’s insistence.

Jungil didn’t waste any time and made his way directly to KOS.

Jaewon Lee, the CEO of South Korea’s top idol management agency, had previously shown interest in Junwoo. After Jungil shared the situation, Jaewon couldn’t help but smile, intrigued by the developments.

“This is moving faster than I expected. But it’s good news for me. I’ll go there myself this time.”

“No need to worry, sir. We’ll take care of all contract issues related to the contestants.”

“Is that so?” Jaewon’s response carried a hint of disappointment. “The issue is that KOS has to come up with an offer Mr. Joo can’t refuse.”

“Don’t worry about that. From what I gather, mentioning idols won’t sway him. But offer him a chance to be involved in a project before anyone else, especially if he’s eager to act, and he won’t be able to resist.”

***

Joo Theater.

Sangjun made his way to the rural theater with a few of his team members.

“How have you been, Mr. Joo? I’m Sangjun Yoo, a producer at W Broadcasting. We met before, yes?”

Mansik stood at the entrance and looked them over.

Armed with a stack of files, their faces were tense, but they tried not to show it.

They must have wrapped up filming the first round by now.

Mansik smiled to himself as if he could tell what they were thinking.

“Please come in.”

Anticipating that the conversation might take some time given their purpose, Mansik made space for them. A few of Sangjun’s team filed into the theater behind him.

Sangjun placed the files on a table and began, appearing somewhat troubled. “So, where do I start?”

“What’s the issue this time?” Mansik asked, already sensing the purpose of their visit.

“We need to talk about Junwoo Han. It wasn’t an easy decision for us, but…”

Sangjun hesitated, his gaze flickering to the stack of files, but his expression was steady.

“You must have been in a rush, coming here this early without even a call,” Mansik commented.

“Oh, haha. Our afternoons are packed, and our team leader likes to get things done.”

“I’m not free all day either.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll call ahead next time,” said Sangjun.

“Next time?”

Sangjun raised his eyebrows instead of answering. He spread out the documents in front of Mansik and pushed them forward.

“I think we’ll be seeing each other a lot in the future, Mr. Joo.”

He then delved into contract-related discussions in a serious manner.

“I apologize about our last visit. At the time, we rushed to cast Junwoo without properly recognizing his talent. You were right. Junwoo is truly an incredible prodigy.”

A prodigy? Mansik frowned silently.

“So this time, we’ve brought a proposal that should satisfy both you and Junwoo.”

Sangjun pointed to the top of the contract.

“KOS, under CEO Jaewon Lee, is launching a new project soon. It’s an excellent opportunity for the boy to make his acting debut. With the backing of a major agency like KOS and writer Eunyoung Lee, the project’s bound to be a hit.”

Mansik reviewed the document, unfazed, as if the thought of an unsuccessful project had never crossed his mind.

Sangjun continued. “I’m sure you will agree, it’s unreasonable for someone without a solid resume to jump straight into a lead role.”

“Yes, very unreasonable.”

“I’m glad we agree.”

“No, what I mean is, giving this project to Junwoo is unreasonable.”

“Huh?” Sangjun frowned, momentarily taken aback. “It seems you’re missing the bigger picture here. Teaming up with KOS could catapult Junwoo to stardom overnight. Starting off as an idol to build a following before moving into acting is a tried and true path to success.”

What was this talk of becoming an idol all of a sudden?

Mansik smiled subtly. So that’s what they wanted from Junwoo.

He found it amusing that they were still offering opportunities without truly understanding the kid’s capabilities.

“But doesn’t your program promise the winner a role in Daewon Gu’s film?” Mansik argued. “Seems like a more direct route to success. Why bother with a drama then?”

“Because—”

“Or is it that you’re afraid? Afraid that Junwoo might actually win?”

“What are you talking about?”

Sangjun was caught off guard by the barbed question. His words seemed to tumble out at once in indignation.

“If you delay signing the contract, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. You see, Actor’s Kingdom isn’t really about the competition; it’s a launchpad for uncovering future talents. And already, the CEO of KOS is showing interest in Junwoo.”

Mansik hummed thoughtfully but continued to scrutinize the contract with a look of dissatisfaction.

“As outlined here, we’re prepared to take on all responsibilities. Junwoo just needs to focus on his acting. We’ll provide comprehensive training, management support, and even handle his future engagements—”

“I was just about to ask about that clause.” Mansik’s eyes fell on a particular section of the contract. “‘The artist will participate in activities as directed by the company, with details on appearance fees, ad revenues, and other earnings to be specified in a separate agreement.’ This implies that the company would control all rights and profits related to Junwoo.”

Sangjun looked unconcerned. “That’s standard for anyone associated with us, not just Junwoo.”

“Regarding the professional training in acting, dancing, singing, and other areas, I don’t see the need for him. It’d only take up his time.”

“Well, that would be our call to—”

“Section 3, image and copyright management… None of these things seem to be helpful to him. In my opinion.” Then, Mansik abruptly asked in an incredulous tone, “You have seen him perform, right?”

They still hadn’t grasped the full scope of Junwoo’s talent despite their eagerness to sign him.

Ultimately, the decision wasn’t Mansik’s to make. But he was arguing these points because he believed the contract’s many clauses would only serve to restrict Junwoo’s potential.

But the fact that KOS is even involved means he’s already made a lot of waves…

Mansik had been curious about how impressive the terms would be, but as it turned out, they were highly disappointing. It appeared that even South Korea’s leading entertainment agency had its limits.

Then again, he supposed the agency’s operations were tailored to the general caliber of talent they dealt with.

NK was the same. I wonder if there’s any company in this industry capable of supporting him.

Mansik had a sinking feeling that no such place existed—one that would act solely in Junwoo’s best interests.

His thoughts briefly wandered to his past life in politics, a world he had decisively exited, cutting off all ties and connections.

He was beginning to wonder if it’d be better to do it himself.

***

Jungil Park leaped to his feet, knocking back his chair.

“What?! You couldn’t secure the contract?”

“Well, they asked us to return with some revisions.”

“Revisions? What revisions? Just get it done!”

“But the first condition is that it starts after Actor Kingdom finishes… They’re saying they don’t want to stir up trouble midway through the competition.”

That piece of— He runs a tiny theater and thinks he’s all that,” Jungil muttered under his breath. He began chewing on his nails.

I can’t force him to drop out, either. What to do?

Sungrae Jo and Daewon Gu were already eyeing the kid. Jungil knew them too well; they wouldn’t just sit back. He had learned that Sungrae had already approached Junho Gil for more insights on Junwoo.

“Just how talented is this kid that everyone’s in such an uproar over him?”

It was then that Hanjun Shin, the casting director for Actor Kingdom, chimed in. Tasked with evaluating the contestants and deciding their screen time under Jungil’s directive, Hanjun had over a decade of experience in casting. His keen eye for spotting talent and potential in budding actors was unmatched.

Feeling a sense of relief, Jungil pulled Hanjun aside. “Okay, so, tell me. What’s the deal with him?”

He had forwarded a video to Hanjun earlier, a clip from the editing team of Junwoo’s impromptu performance. As Hanjun watched the video closely, Jungil hovered nearby, barely able to sit still.

“He definitely has talent,” Hanjun began. “I was surprised when I saw him in person. But now, he’s messing with our program’s script. And he disrupted another contestant’s storyline last time. And then Sungrae saw him up there…”

“What’s wrong?”

Hanjun, who had been engrossed in the video, fell silent. His previously curious expression shifted to one of seriousness. Muttering to himself, he seemed almost incredulous.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before…”

His reaction mirrored the astonishment the judges had shown.

“Boss,” Hanjun finally said.

“He’s that good? How does he stack up against Hyeok Kang?”

“Now’s not the time to worry about the show,” Hanjun said, suddenly serious.

“What are you talking about?”

“Pausing it won’t solve anything. We need to get in touch with Chairman Kang before it’s too late… No, where is he right now?”

Hanjun’s face was filled with worry.

Having worked alongside the casting director for years, Jungil knew he’d always been the one to keep a level head, regardless of a contestant’s talent. This was the first time Jungil had seen him react so strongly.

The realization hit Jungil hard. The rural theater performance by Junho Gil, the buzz among the audience and crew from the first episode, the abrupt intervention by Sungrae Jo and Daewon Gu, coupled with Mansik’s indifferent attitude—it all clicked.

Jungil felt naive for thinking all was well.

Junwoo Han was already shaking up the Korean film industry.

***

At that moment, Junwoo had left the accommodation provided by the broadcasting station to get some fresh air. As he walked, a figure coming toward him suddenly stopped right in front of him.

It was a boy who looked around the same age, and he stared at Junwoo intently.

Despite it being late, the boy was dressed in a finely tailored suit, his handsome features illuminated by the streetlights. His posture exuded the aura of a spoiled rich kid.

I think I saw him on TV years ago. Or does he just look similar?

Just as Junwoo was casually walking past, trying not to draw attention—

The boy blocked his path again.

“Not bad looking.”

Commenting on appearance right off the bat?

The boy continued to gaze directly into Junwoo’s eyes, leaving Junwoo standing there bewildered. He didn’t seem like he was trying to pick a fight. Instead, it was like he’d simply said what was on his mind.

From his demeanor and way of speech, Junwoo had a rough idea of the boy’s background.

“Thanks,” Junwoo said.

Again, he tried to pass the boy in the same unhurried manner.

But the boy abruptly extended his hand, stopping just short of Junwoo’s chest.

“I’m Hyeok Kang.”

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