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A Thousand Faces by Sosan. A man with determined eyes is holding a script, ready to perform.

A Thousand Faces

24

Chapter 24

1

Hyeok Kang. The only son of the Daemyung Group’s chairman, Geonim Kang.

A true prodigy, he was set on an elite path from childhood, both at home and abroad. His father had big plans for him to take over the family empire, but Hyeok had dreams of his own. From a young age, he was determined to become an actor, a wish that clashed with his family’s expectations.

But he had inherited his father’s relentless spirit.

“Fine,” his father finally conceded, “but if you’re going to do this, you have to be the best. Don’t bother starting if you’re not prepared to do that.”

Geonim made it clear: Hyeok had to outshine everyone and uphold the Group’s reputation. He had no patience for half-hearted efforts or riding on the family’s coattails.

For Hyeok Kang, failure was never an option.

After intensive training with some of the world’s finest acting coaches, Hyeok’s talent was undeniable. He always led the pack, never once criticized for lacking skill. Above all else, acting was the thing he felt most confident in. Never once had he envied another’s ability.

Enter Actor Kingdom.

Hyeok didn’t know he was the predetermined winner, or that the program was originally created for his sake. All he knew was that he had won the judges over with his first performance.

They had showered him with compliments, but for Hyeok, it was just another day. Having competed against the best from a young age, Actor Kingdom was nothing he couldn’t handle.

But then—

“They’ve stopped filming.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I heard there was this solo performance for about twenty minutes. You should’ve seen the judges’ faces—completely pale.”

The rumor circulating among the contestants wasn’t about Hyeok Kang. He soon found himself scouring the internet for the boy’s name.

According to a few articles, the mystery contestant was a country bumpkin from the middle of nowhere.

Hyeok had never felt this way about anyone his age before. He couldn’t just sit still; his curiosity drove him to seek this person out.

“So, I heard you caused a stir during the show,” Hyeok said to Junwoo. “What did you do? Everyone’s saying filming stopped because of you.”

“I didn’t do anything. I just followed the objective.”

Hyeok raised an eyebrow at that answer.

He’s deliberately not saying anything.

Determined to get a rise out of him, Hyeok initiated a conversation about the round. He talked about choosing the minor character Minjun Lee for his own performance and the audience’s reaction.

“What did you do to make the judges turn pale?” Hyeok finally asked.

This would’ve been a good time for the boy, Junwoo, to start bragging about his performance. But…

“Wow, you thought of all that? That’s amazing. And then?” Junwoo said, nodding.

What’s this? I didn’t see this coming.

Junwoo looked expectant.

Was my story that surprising? Clearing his throat, Hyeok began to ramble on in earnest.

Junwoo reacted to his comments with just the right amount of engagement. But then…

“So, you made that line about helplessness, right? Not fear,” Hyeok asked.

“Uh, yeah. I thought that was obvious.”

Was this kid really clueless? To Hyeok Kang, it felt like Junwoo was either toying with him or humoring him like an uncle might with a talkative nephew.

“It’s a TV show, so yeah, I thought about the judges’ reactions too,” Junwoo added.

“Right…”

“There wasn’t much else I could do given the stage constraints.”

“Totally.”

Hyeok’s replies grew more disjointed and less sincere as the conversation went on. Each of Junwoo’s insights, casually thrown out, unsettled Hyeok. Almost like he was losing ground.

Wait. Losing ground? To this bumpkin?

For the first time since he was a child, Hyeok Kang felt embarrassed about his acting. A competitive spark ignited within him.

Why am I like this?

It felt like he had already lost just by acknowledging Junwoo as competition.

“So, what did you do?” Hyeok persisted.

“I’d rather not say. Maybe they had their reasons for not letting the others see my performance. I don’t want to get disqualified for violating any rules, you know?”

Hyeok Kang blinked. Suddenly, he had become the violator.

What the hell? He felt wronged, almost like he’d been cheated.

“If you’re curious, watch the show,” Junwoo said as he strolled away.

Hyeok stood there dumbfounded. Replaying Junwoo’s casual remarks from earlier, he realized they were all valid.

If Hyeok had thought as strategically before going up on stage, his performance could have been even more impactful. He had no choice but to admit it.

When would the first episode air? He wanted to see the kid’s acting as soon as possible.

“Hey!” he yelled at Junwoo’s retreating figure. “Next time, it’s going to be a real match, okay?”

It was the first time he’d ever wanted to genuinely compete with someone.

Of course, the same couldn’t be said for the other boy.

***

The next day.

“Man, it’s hard to see your face,” Mansik said, walking up to the front of the Actor Kingdom dorm.

Junwoo’s eyes widened when he saw him. “What are you doing here?”

“Everyone’s losing their minds over what you did, and I’m the only one out of the loop. I had to come see for myself.”

Mansik’s face looked exhausted, as if he’d had many sleepless nights.

The two of them found a bench nearby and settled down.

“How’s the theater doing these days?” Junwoo asked.

“Busy, thanks to you. But it’s not the same without you around,” Mansik replied, then quickly changed the subject. “Sangjun Yoo stopped by the theater yesterday. He wants to sign you to KOS. They have a new drama in the works.”

“KOS? What’s that?”

“It’s an idol management agency. The biggest here in Korea in terms of scale.”

“Oh, idols,” Junwoo remarked, then didn’t ask any further as if he wasn’t interested.

Suddenly, Mansik felt a pang of curiosity. “Can you sing?”

“…Sing?”

Why was he asking about that all of a sudden? Junwoo narrowed his eyes as he tried to recall the last time he sang. The memory was fuzzy.

As he was lost in thought, Mansik noticed something behind him.

At that moment, the idol group UNIQ flashed on a billboard. One of the members blew a kiss to the camera, winking playfully. Mansik tried to imagine Junwoo up there.

“What’s with that look?” Junwoo said.

“It’s nothing. Just a silly question I had.”

Junwoo moved on. “I didn’t think he’d visit you again.”

“I’ve returned the offer for now, but I kept a copy of the contract. You should take a look…” Mansik trailed off as he began rummaging through his briefcase.

“No, thanks. Why would I need to look at it?”

Huh? Mansik paused, surprised. “Then who else would look over it?”

“You’ll take care of it, won’t you?”

“Don’t you care what happens?”

Junwoo laughed. “Of course I care. It’s just that you know more about these things than I do.”

This wasn’t right. Mansik knew Junwoo. If Junwoo had been alone, without a shadow of a doubt, he would’ve been all over it.

Come to think of it, Junwoo had been avoiding getting involved in any contract talks with agencies. Mansik had thought it was just him being lazy, but in fact, it had been a display of deep trust.

Realizing this, Mansik was speechless for a while.

A moment later, he spoke again, carefully, not wanting to burden Junwoo. It was a question he’d never asked before.

“But you know… people are always trying to get you to sign with them. Have you ever thought about joining an agency?”

“An agency?”

“If you’re happy with where you are right now, acting-wise, then maybe there’s no need. But it seems like you have a clear purpose behind your actions, more than just acting for the sake of it.”

“Yeah.”

“I mean, you have a goal, right?”

Mansik was genuinely curious. Junwoo didn’t strike him as someone chasing fame or aiming to dominate the acting world.

After a moment of thought, Junwoo gave an unexpected answer. “I want to bring someone with me.”

“Someone?”

“Yeah. But not yet.”

The expression on Junwoo’s face was one Mansik hadn’t seen before.

Not yet, huh? Whatever the case, it means he still needs to climb up.

Seeing Junwoo’s determined look, Mansik became even more convinced.

“There’s actually something I’ve been meaning to tell you once the program ended,” Mansik said.

“What is it?”

“I’m thinking of starting a company in Seoul.”

“Are you going to close the theater?”

“Yes. But I won’t make that decision alone.”

“Then who will?” Junwoo asked, confused.

“Junwoo, have you ever thought about entrusting your future to me?” Mansik, who seldom used Junwoo’s name, asked this with a serious expression.

It wasn’t a casual question. The air between them shifted, charged with a gravity that hadn’t been there before.

Mansik had planned everything out in detail. He had always been cautious, never giving advice lightly. Now, it was clear from his determined face that he had made up his mind.

“As you know, I don’t have the resources of NK, nor can I match the kind of contract you deserve right now. I don’t have a huge network in the industry. But I can promise you this—I won’t stop you from becoming the actor you want to be.”

Junwoo remained silent, allowing Mansik to continue.

“My entire focus will be on you so that you’re free from distractions. You can just do the things you want. I’ve thought about it, and I don’t see any better way for you.”

Junwoo looked like he wasn’t pleased with the idea.

I guess I was too hasty.

Mansik began to backtrack. “Maybe I’m jumping the gun here. I just thought, with so many distractions around, you might be tired. Just forget I said anything.”

“You always do that,” Junwoo finally said.

“Huh?”

“You always talk like you won’t do it if I tell you not to.”

Mansik was speechless.

“You’re not normally such a timid person.”

“It’s only because I know you’re someone who’ll need the best care, and I don’t think I’m…”

Mansik had always backed down when it came to matters concerning Junwoo.

But for Junwoo, the theater owner had been the one to reignite his passion for acting. From Junho Gil to Actor Kingdom, if it weren’t for Mansik, he’d still be working at a construction site.

If Mansik had chosen to exploit him like the others did, Junwoo would have overlooked it once. Given his ambitions, he was more than capable of it.

But he never did. Why was that?

“I actually died once,” Junwoo said. “You brought me back to life.”

Mansik had no idea Junwoo saw him that way. He had always felt guilty for discovering the kid, considering this level of talent too good for himself, and he suddenly felt overwhelmed.

“You saved me,” Junwoo continued, “so stop talking about selling me off and be the one who pushes me to improve.”

“You’re really…”

“I wasn’t planning on going anywhere, even later,” Junwoo added.

That statement implied that he had thought about it for a while. There was a reason he hadn’t jumped at the offers.

At that moment, Mansik sensed there was more beneath the surface. Was the kid just being considerate?

“Alright. Whatever comes our way, remember, it’s not on you. Just focus on acting and—”

As Mansik fumbled for words, trying to express his feelings, Junwoo suddenly stood up as if he couldn’t bear it anymore.

“Where are you going?!”

“I don’t know. Let’s get something to eat while we talk. I’m starving.”

“You’re just embarrassed right now, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not.”

As if.

Mansik quickly followed Junwoo, a smile lighting up his face. “So what should we call it? Junwoo Entertainment? Woojun Entertainment?”

“That’s lame.”

“Hmm. What about combining our names? Wooman?”

“…”

“I’m kidding.”

“I changed my mind. I don’t want any part of it.”

“I said I was kidding.”

***

With the second round of the finals just around the corner, Jungil Park and Sangjun Yoo were hurriedly revising the script in the conference room.

“Why didn’t I think of this?” Jungil said with a gasp. “That Junwoo Han kid. He has a fatal flaw.”

“What do you mean?”

“The truth is, talent isn’t everything in this business.”

The second round was a team mission.

Sangjun listened to Jungil’s explanation and reviewed the matchup chart once more.

“Huh. But… No matter how good the kid is, it won’t matter in this round. We can definitely save Hyeok Kang.”

“We have no choice. You shouldn’t underestimate him,” Jungil countered. “You’ve seen what he’s capable of. This time, we need to knock him properly.”

“Okay, I’ll keep that in mind.”

Junwoo’s team would be up against Hyeok’s.

I need to get rid of that kid for good this time.

Hyeok Kang’s team was a diverse mix, ranging from rookie actors to idols and social media influencers, all of whom had already garnered a following even before the program began.

And the second round was a popularity contest.

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