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A Thousand Faces


Chapter 7


The kid spoke just as Mansik’s hopeful expression began to fade.

“Well, I don’t know who the actors are.”

“Do you have to see the actors to change the dialogue?” Mansik probed.

“Yes. The same lines and emotions can feel totally different depending on who’s saying them.”

Mansik hummed thoughtfully. Usually, you would nail down the roles and script before scouting actors to bring those roles to life. But insisting on seeing the actor first? That seemed a bit much.

Skeptically tilting his head, Mansik conceded, “I guess it does change with their skill…”

“It’s more than skill,” the boy insisted. “It’s about the kind of life they’ve lived. The tiny habits, the way their face moves—stuff you can’t hide with acting. You have to know them to capture it. Even the pitch of their voice can change the feel of the scene, same words or not.”

Mansik narrowed his eyes, wondering how one could notice such nuances in voice pitch.

But deep down, he got it. He was resistant because the truth was too hard to accept. His heart raced a bit faster. Clearly, this kid’s gift went beyond stage direction.

“Try smiling in the mirror later,” the boy went on. “Your pupils dilate slightly, you know. Perfect for a murderer role.”

Mansik didn’t know how to respond to that. While he sat dumbfounded, the boy chuckled.

“Just kidding. Want to hear more?”

The boy began tidying his empty plate, and Mansik was so wrapped up in his thoughts he barely noticed him stand up.

“Aren’t you leaving?”


“I’ll get going, then. Thank you for the meal.”

With a polite bow, the boy left the restaurant.

Mansik had rubbed shoulders with countless people in the theater world. He had seen many who struggled for years before eventually dropping out without ever stepping on stage. In this field, only the naturally gifted survived.

A prodigy.

Among all his fleeting connections, Mansik had met a few who genuinely earned that label. Nevertheless, today’s experience was a first. And, more shockingly, that boy was a complete novice to the theater.

Mansik had so many questions. Where on earth had this kid come from?

Though he still had so much to ask, when he came to his senses, all he saw in front of him was the boy’s neatly cleared plate.


Dust blew in the wind. A boy peered at his reflection in the window of a building.

It was Junwoo.

Two years had passed. He was living in a house in the countryside arranged for him by Ilnam. Of the many changes during that time, the biggest change of all was Junwoo’s appearance.

His wavy hair remained the same, but he’d shot up two inches taller. All the physical labor, which was completely new to him, had bulked up his slender frame. The baby fat was gone, leaving his face lean. He no longer resembled the Junwoo of the past.

A simple life. That was what he had yearned for.

However, for Junwoo, who had never had a place in society before, even finding a part-time job was a struggle. While life might have been a whole lot easier if he reverted back to his old ways, since he had decided he wouldn’t do that anymore, he spent his days working on construction sites. Surprisingly, he found this new routine somewhat satisfying.

But even with that, he still longed for one thing.

The days when he watched movies from dawn till dusk, the nights at the video store.

He wanted to watch a movie. He hadn’t seen any since coming here.

And then, one day…

“Hey, kiddo. You should be out there exploring, not cooped up here. Go have some fun. I heard there’s a new theater in the next neighborhood over. Why don’t you check it out?”

A theater.

It had been a long time.

Without a second thought, after his day’s work, Junwoo wandered for an hour, letting his feet lead the way. Before he knew it, he stood before a theater. The sound of a movie spilled through the cracks of the door.

But it wasn’t a movie; it was a play. The auditorium was empty except for a man who sat in the middle, sighing deeply.

Junwoo’s initial disappointment quickly evaporated, turning into excitement. It had been a long time since he’d felt like this. As the recording played, the powerful voices of the actors echoed throughout the theater. The stage play had a charm distinct from movies. The immediacy of the performances, unfolding in real-time on stage rather than in front of a camera, stirred something in his once-empty heart.

For a fleeting moment, he even imagined himself on that stage.

And so it began. His body seemed to have a mind of its own. As soon as work finished, Junwoo headed to the theater. After every show, he made it a point to show his gratitude for the place that had injected purpose into his previously aimless life, however small the gesture.

Then, he crossed paths with a certain man.

“What’s your name?”

The man, seemingly tied to the theater, kept asking Junwoo questions. Although his excessive familiarity was annoying, every time Junwoo saw him, he was reminded of Ilnam. Despite his rough demeanor, the man seemed like a gentleman who wouldn’t harm anyone for no reason.

Junwoo had mixed feelings about the man’s unwarranted kindness. Were there still people like that? It didn’t seem like he had an easy life either.

Caught in these thoughts, Junwoo found himself walking toward the theater again. It had become a routine.

However, today, there was something he needed to take care of first.


Junwoo looked up at the building.

He was here for one reason: to collect the wages owed to him by the construction site manager. It seemed the manager thought he could exploit Junwoo because he was young and living alone.

Junwoo had let it slide a couple of times, not wanting to make a fuss, but this time, the shortfall was too big to ignore. Excuses about tough times or the costs of an expanding team were wearing thin, especially when Junwoo himself wasn’t in a good place. He had shown patience with reasonable excuses, but now, it was clear he was being taken advantage of.

Did he really think those excuses were enough?

As Junwoo entered, he saw they were having a party. There were drinks and cards, and even a game of Go.

The flushed faces in the room turned to Junwoo as he walked in.

“What’s this? Is this your kid?” someone slurred.

“I’m here for my money,” Junwoo announced.

The other employees, who were already quite drunk, began laughing and jeering things like, “Looks like Manager Kim had a secret kid,” and “I knew it.”

Kim, the boss of the construction company, was sitting in the middle of the room.

“Money? What money? You left money with me?”

“Yes, I left it with you.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You said you’d give it to me later, remember? I’ve come to get it. 587,000 won, to be exact.”

“Well, well, well. Look at you.” Kim smiled. “Kid, I know you’re young and naive, but ‘later’ is just a polite way of saying ‘no.’ I’m not giving you anything.”

“So, you’re keeping it?”

Kim’s smirk twisted into a scowl.

“Am I not getting my money?” Junwoo said with genuine disappointment.

He had given the manager one last chance, fully aware that both he and his coworkers were being shortchanged. Unable to do anything about it alone, he had tried to get the others to fight with him by letting them know what was going on.

But then, where would I find another job?

Then, suddenly…


“Are you kidding me?! I can’t believe you’re shorting this kid!”

Junwoo blinked in confusion. It was the man from the theater.


An hour ago.

Mansik was waiting for the boy in front of the theater. This was usually about the time he showed up, but for whatever reason, there was no sign of him.

Frustrated, Mansik went in to ask a staff member. “Hey, you know any spots a seventeen-year-old would hang around here?”

“Seventeen? Probably at school.”

“No, he doesn’t go to school. Think of a place a kid who works at a construction site would go. Hah, I wish I knew where he lived.”


“That’s none of your business.”

“Well, why not ask the construction site?”


“You said he works at a construction site. He should be there, right? Who’s this about, anyway?”

Why didn’t I think of that?

Without another word, Mansik turned on his heel and sped off.

“Hey, where are you going, boss? The meeting’s about to start!”

By the time Mansik arrived at the construction site, he was out of breath. Scanning the area, there was no sign of the boy. He grabbed the first worker he saw and asked about a kid. The worker pointed to a building across the way, and Mansik didn’t bother to hear the rest of his answer. He took off running.

Peering through the slightly open door, Mansik spotted a familiar silhouette. Relief washed over him.

There he is.

But what the hell was going on in there? Unpaid wages? Owed money? After listening for a while, Mansik couldn’t bear it any longer. He burst into the room.

Junwoo, who was the true victim, stood silently while Mansik raged at the top of his lungs.

“Are you bastards so desperate for money that you’d steal from a kid?! Shame on all of you. I’ll report this to the labor board, so get ready to be unemployed, you scumbags! Ptoo!

The wad of spit Mansik aimed toward them landed on their playing cards.

Junwoo scratched his head.

“What’re you standing around for?” Mansik said, turning to Junwoo. “Come on, let’s go. Don’t waste your time with these lowlifes.”

Mansik grabbed Junwoo and pulled him outside.


Somehow, Junwoo found himself back in the theater.

Mansik, still not over his anger, muttered something beside him. Junwoo found the whole situation kind of amusing.

“Why are you so worked up?” he asked the grumbling theater owner.

“Aren’t you? You should’ve gotten your money. Should I get those guys reported and dealt with?”

“Why would you do that?” Junwoo asked, genuinely curious.

“Like you would know how to handle these things.”

“Is it that hard?”

“Watch it. When an adult does something for you, you’re supposed to be thankful, not question it.”

Junwoo was puzzled by the man’s readiness to help him. He didn’t seem to be after anything. After dealing with so many spineless people, Junwoo wasn’t used to being treated with such kindness.

More than that, it seemed Mansik had deep sympathy for Junwoo’s situation—working at the construction site, parent-less, with no name. Junwoo thought the man would just move on, but it seemed like he had taken the boy’s plight to heart.

Mansik glanced at the muscle relief patch peeking from under Junwoo’s shirt. “Stop going to that construction site. Work here instead.”

Maybe it was out of sympathy. Mansik blurted it out without even realizing it.

Hang on. How much did we lose last month?

He recalled his financial situation a second too late.

“Why?” Junwoo asked.

“Well, you know… You can watch all the plays you like here.”

“I mean, why are you helping me? The other day, too.”

“I’m not doing you a favor, kid. I need a new part-timer since my last one quit. Are you any good?”

“Do you have a lot of money, sir?”

Unable to lie, Mansik coughed awkwardly.

“Seeing you always stressing out like that, you don’t seem like you have money to give away,” Junwoo commented.

“Why? Worried I might cheat you out of your pay?”


“You little… I’ll go work at that construction site if that’s what I have to do to get you paid. Don’t you worry about that.”

Mansik recalled the events from two days ago. He remembered everything the boy had said, and even though his points were impossible to prove, the feelings he had experienced still lingered.

He couldn’t let such a kid rot away at a construction site. Everyone has their rightful place, and to Mansik, this boy belonged here, in the theater.

In fact, Mansik’s theater, which he had considered his whole world, seemed somewhat lacking. Even if the kid accepted his offer, Mansik couldn’t imagine how far he would rise in the future.

It might even be a loss in the short term. Yet, Mansik couldn’t let this kid go; he wanted him by his side.

Why am I going to such lengths?

Meanwhile, Junwoo was trying to understand Mansik’s intentions. He knew the theater didn’t need a part-timer. Typically, one would be suspicious of such unfounded kindness. After all his misdeeds in his past life, he knew to be wary about too-good-to-be-true offers.

However, Mansik didn’t evoke such feelings in him. It was hard to explain. Junwoo could imagine the man being taken advantage of rather than the other way around.

And he needed a job anyway. But more than that, something in Mansik’s words tickled his heart.

“Um, about what you said before…” Junwoo began.

“What did I say?”

“Do you watch plays even on the job?”

Junwoo had made up his mind.


“Hmm. He’s more meticulous than I thought.”

Mansik was hungry. Leaning against a pillar, he stretched out his legs.

It had already been a week since the boy started working at the theater.

Earlier, when he noticed that the props in the rehearsal room in the basement were disorganized, he had casually mentioned to Junwoo that he should tidy them up.

Mansik had been waiting for the kid to have dinner together since then. But three hours later, there was still no sign of him.

Was the kid a neat freak? Even so, it was taking way too long.

Unable to bear it any longer, Mansik headed downstairs and burst through the rehearsal room door.

“Hey kid, when are you going to—?!”

Mansik froze in his tracks. It was a complete mess.

Instead of the organized room he’d been expecting, props were scattered all over the place. Shelves lay toppled on the floor. Old scripts that should have been in neat stacks were piled in a heap on one side.

In a word, it was utter chaos.

Mansik’s head spun.

And in the middle of it all sat Junwoo.

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