The effectiveness of ginger tea is unleashed during the winter. It blocks the cold wind like a mother’s touch, leaving a deep, lingering taste that warms the body and wards off colds and lingering illnesses. How much of it did I consume during my hungry and struggling days on movie sets?
“Hyung, this tea is so sweet and bitter. It’s very appetizing.”
The sound of setting down the teacup was clear and crisp.
“Drinking ginger tea at your place this winter reminds me of the old days. It’s been several decades since we first filmed together at Mount Jiri. You scolded me so much for my poor acting back then. Do you remember how frustrated I was? I acted according to what I had learned in school and experienced on set, but you kept making me do retakes.”
“Why are you bringing up that story all of a sudden?”
“In the end, didn’t you even come to my house to put me to sleep? I have never seen a director who would go so far as to fix the acting of a rookie like me. It’s been decades, but I still remember the taste of the ginger tea you used to make.”
A faint smile appeared on Baek Janghun’s wrinkled lips.
“Is Jang Yeongguk, the child actor, also such an actor?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is he an actor worth your affection?”
Baek Janghun simply sipped his tea silently.
“Since you’re not saying anything, I guess it’s true.”
“Why would someone like you be jealous?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Are there any other actors in Korea besides me whom you have personally taught and guided? Let me cut to the chase and ask just one question. Between young Ahn Junghyeon and child actor Jang Yeongguk, who is more attractive?”
Baek Janghun looked at the middle-aged man sitting across from him. Although they were of different ages, they were close friends who had shared the ups and downs of their many years together on movie sets. The once-runny-nosed rookie actor had become a respected national actor.
“You’ve seen the indie film that screened at the Busan International Film Festival, haven’t you? The one with that child as the lead.”
“Yes, I saw it. That’s why I’m asking. I’m curious about how good young Ahn Junghyeon was.”
“If you were a young sprout that grew in the fertile soil of movie sets, he would be a sprout that grew in a barren wasteland. While you have already blossomed and spread your petals, no one knows how he will grow in the future. He may wither before sprouting, lose his petals, or break midway. But that’s what I would say.”
Baek Janghun put down his teacup and answered.
“Wildflowers are nicer.”
* * *
Daegwol (Grand Mansion).
This word succinctly describes the residence of director Baek Janghun. As if visiting a classic house with a long courtyard, frost had piled up on the elongated roof tiles. In the winter, the old pine tree proudly spread its gnarled branches, giving off the feeling of stepping into an oriental painting. A lovely stone staircase guided the way between the yellow ripe lawns. The housemaid greeted me with a bright smile.
“Does the tea suit your taste? Should I prepare something else?”
Ginger tea, which I drank so diligently during my past life when I had a cold, fearing that my throat might be blocked.
“Yes, it’s very delicious.”
“I was worried if it would not suit a child’s taste, but seeing you drink it so well, my worries were unfounded.”
While sipping the tea, I looked at director Baek Janghun and the other man sitting at the table. Never would I have expected him to be here.
In my past life, Song Jeongseok became a national actor when he was middle-aged, and now, there was Ahn Junghyeon. His status was no exaggeration to say that it even surpassed that of my past life’s Song Jeongseok. Ahn Junghyeon was one of the pioneers of Korean film acting; even renowned actors used his acting videos as teaching materials. A living legendary actor.
The rumor that he and director Baek Janghun were close friends turned out to be true.
Despite their age difference, Ahn Junghyeon and director Baek Janghun appeared very close. In my past life, after director Baek Janghun passed away, Ahn Junghyeon suddenly announced his retirement as an actor. There were many rumors following that, but people thought it must have been influenced by the death of director Baek Janghun, whom he had trusted and followed.
“Yeongguk, do you know who this man is?”
How could I not know!
“Of course, is there anyone in Korea who doesn’t know teacher Ahn Junghyeon? I’m sorry for the late greeting. My name is Jang Yeongguk.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you from my friend here. Of course, I’ve also heard about you elsewhere. When we’re in private like this, just call me ‘ajeossi’ comfortably. I’m not so old that I need to hear ‘teacher’ from you too.”
“By the way, do you know any of my works?”
Seeing him made me comfortable like this. It would be absurd to keep addressing him with teacher or senior titles. However, I did look like an ordinary middle school student from the outside.
“I was deeply impressed by your movie Mount Jiri!”
“Mount Jiri was the first project I did with my friend here. Can’t believe you watched that classic film made decades ago. It’s even hard to find videotapes of it. And it was definitely rated R…”
“I watched it on a videotape from a second-hand bookstore in Yeongdo. Ahaha.”
In my past life, I loved classic films. I watched all the classic films that Ahn Junghyeon had starred in, especially because I was captivated by his acting as much as I was by my passion for acting.
“Hyung, you see? This Ahn Junghyeon is still alive! I never thought I’d actually meet the child PD Yoo talked about.”
“PD Yoo from KBC Broadcasting. I became friends with him when he was an AD in a historical drama I filmed. The other day, I was having a drink with him at a pocha, and guess what he said.”
“What did he say?”
“He said he saw the young Ahn Junghyeon at the script reading.”
I couldn’t believe that PD Yoo said that. As Ahn Junghyeon continued, a smile spread across Baek Janghun’s face.
“Yeongguk, did you contact the CEO of your agency? I’m sorry I couldn’t go to the train station myself. I would have gone myself if it wasn’t for this unexpected guest.”
“No, it’s okay. I came comfortably in the car you sent. And I already called the CEO. Were you so worried I might make a mistake when I’m with you?”
“Mistake? I’ve gained an adorable conversation partner like this; I can only feel energized!”
Ahn Junghyeon’s eyes widen as he looks back and forth between Baek Janghun and me.
“Hyung, did you secretly get a grandson or something?”
* * *
Could this be grandpa’s affection? Worried I might catch a cold in the harsh winter, he carefully prepared thermal underwear for me. He also bought new blankets, concerned that the bedding might be uncomfortable. The floor was so warm it felt like I was in a sauna. The scent of delicious food tickled my nose as I entered the living room wearing the gray thermal outerwear.
Director Baek Janghun, also wearing thermal outerwear, sat on the living room floor. Seeing me, his tiger-like face broke into a grin.
“I chose this thermal outerwear after much consideration. Do you like it?”
“Yes, the lining is so nice that I don’t think I’ll catch a cold this winter.”
“Right? It’s cold standing up, so come over here.”
It’s a brazier. They say a winter brazier is better than any leather. The warmth from the small brazier, which looked like it belonged to an antique shop, filled the living room. As I looked around, the traditional furniture and the mansion’s exterior seemed to reflect Director Baek Janghun’s taste.
Tock tock tock.
Chestnuts that had been gathered in the fall were roasting in a pan, revealing their green insides as they jumped. I ate many of them when I was young, but I had forgotten about them as chestnut trees gradually disappeared from the streets.
“Grandpa, please have some too.”
I pick up a nicely roasted chestnut with chopsticks and hand it to Director Baek Janghun. He ate it in one bite with a smile like a kind-hearted grandpa. Just then, small snowflakes started to fall in the wide garden.
“Yeongguk, take a look at this.”
It’s a thick script, handwritten without the use of a typewriter. It looked more like a diary filled with memories than a script, as it had been written and erased repetitively. As I flipped through the pages, my throat tightened, and my eyes welled up with tears.
‘What is this?’
This is a script I came across in my past life. It’s the last script that was made public under Baek Janghun’s name. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the strength to film it, so it was never made into a movie. Has this script existed all this time? The traces of age on it can’t be explained by just one or two years. How much time has passed?
“This is a script I’ve cherished for a long time. I just couldn’t find the right actor. It was so frustrating. I had the script but couldn’t make it into a movie. Yeongguk, you set a condition for me, didn’t you?”
“Grandpa, even so, for me to appear in this script…”
“I know, the age range doesn’t match. The protagonist in the script is a young man. That’s why I’m saying this. If you continue your path as an actor, try to become the protagonist in this script. Of course, if your acting doesn’t catch up by then, there’s nothing we can do about it. How does it sound? Are you interested?”
My throat tightened involuntarily. It would be a lie to say I was not interested. In my past life, I yearned so much to have been in one of Director Baek Janghun’s films. But what could I do if he already passed away? Besides, this script was where Director Baek Janghun poured his passion. Even a small role in it would have been great. Although it’s a story from the distant future, Director Baek Janghun was already smiling as if he heard my answer.
“Yeongguk, what do you think about acting?”
“Yes, I want to hear your thoughts. I’ve spent my whole life watching movies, but defining what a movie is still difficult for me. Since you’re walking the path of an actor, I’m curious about your perspective on acting.”
There could be no end to acting. It existed because of the actor’s desire. That’s what Jang Yeongguk thought as someone who was obsessed with acting. But what if the desire was placed elsewhere? Was there anything more enjoyable than a journey where you don’t seek results, like a stranger looking for paradise? There’s only one word that encompasses all of this.
“I think of becoming an actor as a journey. A traveler who constantly explores an endless path. I think it’s the same for actors. Each moment of delivering a line is precious. So precious that I don’t want to see the end.”
Wasn’t the path of an actor about capturing the joy and sorrow of life in a single line of dialogue rather than finding the end of acting? Grandpa’s eyes twinkled strangely as if he heard an unexpected answer. Underneath the warmth of the brazier, the first snow fell. Grandpa spoke softly to the falling snow.
“Then this winter must be quite a happy one, Yeongguk, since I can travel with you.”
 Pocha is a tented food cart or street food stall, usually serving alcoholic drinks and simple Korean dishes.
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