Chapter 1 – Movie Empress’s daughter
What’s scarier than the experience of watching a bad movie? Watching your own bad movie.
An expressionless Ning Ning sat in a movie theater, surrounded by roars of laughter, when a neighbouring audience member nudged her with their elbow, “When did you become blind?”
“I’m not blind.” Ning Ning pushed up her sunglasses. She wore a pair of sunglasses not due to blindness, but because she was afraid people would recognise her as the female lead in the movie.
“Hrm, I’ve already gone blind.” The neighbouring audience member took off their eyeglasses and slowly cleaned its lense, “My vision started declining after 5 minutes of watching the movie, and I’m almost a hundred percent blind by now.”
“Ha, haha…” Ning Ning laughed awkwardly, at a loss for words. Thinking, Why hasn’t this darned movie finished running.
At the moment, the movie was actually already halfway finished, and those audience members who cherished their eyesight had more or less left. Of those remaining, they were either scrolling through their phone, chatting, or sleeping. Only Ning Ning’s neighbour was watching the movie seriously. He persistently fixed his gaze onto the screen, though nearly blind, “How many star ratings do you think this movie can get on IMDB?”
Unable to keep her conscience from giving it a full star, Ning Ning said, “3 stars.”
“2.5 stars.” Her neighbouring audience chortled, “2 stars for the plot and 0.5 stars for the main leads.”
“What?” Ning Ning could not remain calm anymore, and she turned her head towards her neighbour, “How can the main leads be blamed for a bad movie? Even a movie empress wouldn’t be able to save such a retarded plot and dumb script!”
“What do you think actors are for? They are there to change something rotten into something magical, to make a 2 star movie be rated 3 stars.” Her neighbour’s gaze remained fixated on the screen. In the darkness, only a rough outline of his side face could be seen, as well as the movie’s reflection on his glasses lense, “There’s only so many good films and only a few good acting roles– the majority of actors got started with bad films. So an actor doesn’t need to put in any effort just because the film is bad?”
The movie ended. Accompanying the melodic flow of the ending song, the lights began to go up in the theatre, also lighting up the man’s side profile. It was the Great director, Chen Guanchao.
As he turned his head and smiled, Ning Ning’s heart sank because she had already guessed the purpose behind his visit to watch the movie and knew his next words.
“Your mum is a great actor.” Chen Guanchao got up and walked past her, leaving behind words of regret, “What a pity, you aren’t.”
He left, and the other audiences left too, leaving behind a vacant movie theatre. Only Ning Ning still sat, unmoving like a statue.
A phone ringtone abruptly sounded. She fished out her phone and saw a message sent by her manager, which said, “You don’t have to go to the audition next month anymore. Director Chen just phoned the higher-ups specifying he will not use you.”
Ning Ning’s phone weakly slipped out of her hand, as she faced the running credits with the actors names slowly moving up the screen then disappearing – like the ebbing tide, washing away old names one after the other and replacing them with new. Of the many names, how many are remembered by people, how many had been forgotten. How many had people praised in admiration, and how many had been shown disdain.
“<I Am a Big Beauty> has stayed at rock bottom since its opening, box office numbers are not expected to even reach 3 million.”
“Curse of the second generation of stars! Formally legendary movie empress’s daughter is bound to not amount to much!”
“Shocking revelation! Ning Ning reveals in private: As long as it pays, I’ll shoot any film!”
In the span of a night, critics overwhelmed her. Standing within the midst of criticism, Ning Ning arrived at the hospital. Slowly, she pushed open the door of the ward, and saw her mother lying on her side in bed with a phone placed beside her pillow. It was currently playing the bad movie in which she was the lead actress <I Am a Big Beauty>.
“Ah, Mummy.” Ning Ning sighed whilst walking over and kneeling down beside the bed. Leaning her forehead against her mother’s hand, she softly said,”I’m sorry, don’t watch it anymore.”
Sorry, I shouldn’t have picked this bad film.
Yet if she had not done so, she would not have sufficient money for her mum’s hospital bills.
In the past, she had still held on to some hope that she could be like her mum – shining like the moon and oh so eye-catching despite starring in a bad movie. But the facts proved she had overestimated herself. Legends are one because they are hard to come by– she had only inherited her mum’s face, not her talent.
“I’m sorry.” Ning Ning could not hold back her overflowing tears, “I’m sorry mummy, I have no talent…”
“Who says you have no talent?” Ning Yuren laughed, “You are exactly like me, exactly the same, look.”
As Ning Ning lifted up her head, reddened eyes could be seen. Following Ning Yuren’s hand, she saw herself with wide opened eyes filled with anger on the phone’s screen, rushing towards the male lead and shouting like an enraged bear, “Why won’t you look at me when I am so pretty! Look at me! Look at me!”
Ning Ning shut her eyes in dismay, speaking with a shaky voice, “Mummy, can we not look at this anymore? I feel like I am going to puke.”
“I was the same when I acted in my first movie, worst yet, I splattered the male lead with a whole face of saliva.” Ning Yuren watched in enjoyment, “The male lead then refused to continue acting, saying how he wanted to open an umbrella whenever he saw me.”
“Then what happened?” Ning Ning asked.
Ning Yuren slightly rolled her shoulders to relax them. “Then I got replaced.”
Ning Ning looked at Ning Yuren in shock, unable to believe that the legendary movie empress had such a history. Because before Ning Yuren was given the title ‘Legendary Movie Empress’, she had another title – inborn actor. Countless great directors have named Ning Yuren as an actor who was the most talented– no matter if she was playing the role of an imperial concubine, a village girl, a cunning spy, a passionate singer, or even a male. She could be immersed into her role, so much so that no one could tell the slightest difference from the real thing.
No, as a matter of fact, it could not even be described as there not being the slightest difference.
In the last movie she acted in before retiring, a war movie on spies directed by Chen Guanchao, he praised her during the press conference, “There will never be another actor greater than Ning Yuren. If I were to play a clip of another actor’s scene, you would be able to tell that they were acting, even if the scene was played repeatedly. But if I played one of hers, you would only think that it was part of a documentary no matter how many times you saw it.”
In comparison, what is this thing acted by Ning Ning?
“Nevermind mummy, don’t console me anymore.” Ning Ning said dejectedly, “It’s clear as day what I am made of now that the film is out. Director Chen even went out of his way to give me a call…”
She paused mid-sentence, not wanting to continue on but Ning Yuren pressed on warmly, “What did he say?”
“… He advised me to leave this industry.” Ning Ning said in a sour tone, “that my films are not just tormenting the audience but also myself, that they are only good enough at supplying the netizens with the latest gossip.”
“Oh.” Ning Yuren scoffed, “He’s a load of shit.”
A bout of dizziness overcame Ning Ning, “Mummy, isn’t it bad to speak of your fanboy that way?”
Ning Yuren, “He was the male lead back then that die die wanted me replaced.”
Ning Ning, “…”
Who knew the great director had such a history!
“Actors are lonesome.” Ning Yuren’s smile vanished as she looked at Ning Ning in seriousness. Reflected in Ning Ning’s eyes was no longer the most beautiful eastern woman, but a bag of bones. Because of the torment of a terminal illness, Ning Yuren’s hair had all fallen away as had her meat, leaving behind a thin layer of skin wrapping over her bones, “Audiences are like the crashing waves that gush towards you, then leave like the receding tides. What will stay with you through it all is only your acting.”
“But I don’t have…” Without waiting for Ning Ning to finish speaking, Ning Yuren pulled her arm over abruptly before placing in her hand the thing that she had prepared beforehand.
A movie ticket.
Ning Ning looked down at the palm of her hand– it was a movie ticket that looked decades old. A thin piece of yellowed paper that had a round stamp on the left side with the words ‘entrance ticket’ written on it. On the right, there was a rectangle which said ‘Life Movie Theater’ and below that, 8th row, 45.
“At midnight, go to this movie theatre at 35 Rouge Street to watch a movie.” Ning Yuren added, “Alone.”
However, she regretted it the next moment and snatched back the ticket, “No, I think you’d better not go.”
“Mummy…” Ning Ning looked at her puzzledly, “Is something the matter?”
Ning Yuren looked at her with mixed emotions, only speaking after a long time, “Ning Ning, do you really want to become an actor like me?”
Ning Ning, “Of course I do.”
Ning Yuren, “How much do you want to?”
“How do you want me to describe it?” Ning Ning furrowed her eyebrows.
“In this lifetime, you will never touch any other meat besides boiled chicken breast.” Ning Yuren said unhurriedly.
Ning Ning who liked skewered meat, could not help looking pained for a moment, before saying resolutely, “I can.”
Ning Yuren, “Even if your wife is about to go into labour, you must still finish acting first.”
Ning Ning, “I am a female.”
“Alright fine,” Ning Yuren kindly rephrased herself, “Even if your husband is about to go into labour, you must put acting first.”
“…I can’t do it.” Ning Ning answered awkwardly, “At such a time, I have to be by my husband and child’s side.”
Ning Yuren, “Don’t be silly, how can a man give birth.”
Ning Ning, “…”
“Final question.” Ning Yuren made a short pause, looking at her, “Will you give up on acting?”
The media’s overwhelming criticism, Chen Guanchao’s late night call, the cursing from Weibo, the gossiping in the agency…
Scene after scene of memories flashed across Ning Ning’s mind, making her need to shut her eyes momentarily for a short escape from reality, before she opened them again with difficulty, “I will never ever give up on acting.”
Ning Yuren’s face lit up with a smile, one that would topple countries and continents. In a split moment, the beauty that had once led countless people to fall head over heels for, had once again returned.
“Go there then.” She handed the movie ticket over to Ning Ning once again, and shut her heavy eyelids as she showed a look of remembrance, “At that place, I once changed my fate. It, too, can change yours…”
Ning Yuren’s voice ceased.
On November 11th, 2016, at 9 p.m., the Legendary Movie Empress Ms. Ning Yuren passed away due to cancer, living to the age of 52.
Movie empress- 影后(ying hou) a.k.a an actress who has won the best female lead award.
Happy Valentine’s Day! An edited version of chapter 1 is finally released! Thanks for your patient wait C: There will be chapter 2 and 3 coming right up.
Noted: ITITMB was moved from Ruisitranslations to Merakitranslations
Translated by: Ruisi
Edited by: Ely
Thanks for reading~