Since I used to leave the Namhang Market at dawn every day, I hardly had any sleep compared to my peers. As I headed to the kitchen filled with the savory smell, the housemaid looked at me with surprised eyes. Of course, she must not have expected me to finish washing up and come downstairs at this early hour.
“Jang Yeongguk, was your bed uncomfortable?”
“No, I slept well, but I usually don’t have much sleep in the morning. Besides, how can I resist such a delicious smell coming from the kitchen? Is that gamtae you’re preparing now?”
“Oh my, how did you know?”
I was born and raised by the sea. Gamtae is a type of seaweed that grows only in clean tidal flats. It looks similar to seaweed but is thinner and has a different texture. When I was young, I used to eat a lot of it, but as the pollution of the tidal flats became worse nationwide, it became as valuable as gold.
“There are a lot of seafood dishes here?”
“The master really likes seafood, so he often skips meals on the filming set. When he’s at the daegwol like this, we try to serve him well.”
“Ma’am, can I help you with the preparation?”
The housemaid nodded with a short bob of her head, finding my childlike manner adorable. Rolling up my sleeves, I helped her with the seafood she had bought from the market. Her eyes, which initially saw it as child’s play, grew bigger and bigger. My past life’s experience in handling seafood spans over several decades. Moreover, I sold fish at traditional markets and supermarkets, so my understanding of most seafood was on par with that of the market vendors at Namhang Market.
“Ma’am, it’s good to chop red pepper finely and sprinkle it with sesame powder in the oyster soup.”
It’s an oyster dish I used to enjoy in my past life. When you boil and prepare oysters, the soup held within the shells was excellent for waking up a tired body. It looked no different from rice water, but when you add finely chopped red pepper and sesame powder, it becomes a true elixir of the sea. Look at the housemaid, she’s amazed after trying a spoonful of it.
“Grandpa, please enjoy your meal.”
The winter sea was called a blessing. It’s full of various seaweeds and seafood. After taking a sip of the sour oyster soup, the wrinkles around his eyes lighted up. Then, the housemaid, with an excited voice, explained,
“Jang Yeongguk made it.”
The same went for the gamtae. As the housemaid prepared it, I shared the cooking methods known only to those who lived by the sea. Even if someone had been cooking for a long time, there’s a difference between the methods known to locals and those known to others. As I taught her various things, she looked at me with a curious expression, but soon agreed when she found out that I was from Yeongdo. Soon, grandpa stared at me with admiration as he put down his spoon.
“Is it true that children who grew up by the sea can cook this well?”
Well, it’s not like I was living my second life.
* * *
The skyline in the city was different from the seacoast. Grey buildings sprouted everywhere, and office workers dressed in suits constantly went about their lives in the alleys between them. Watching the magnificent buildings reminiscent of sheer cliffs and listening to the honking of cars instead of the boat bells, it felt like I’ve come to a completely different world.
In my past life, I lived in this different world, just like them. As my nostalgia began to fade, the car arrived at its destination.
“Wow, the company building is huge.”
Baek Janghun Production, befitting the godfather of the Korean film industry, owned a film production company as well. The exterior of the building was as refined as any other entertainment agency building. It’s a place as sacred as the many filmmakers who have longed for it. As I set foot in it, my emotions surged.
“CEO Kim Seonghwan?”
I never thought I’d meet CEO Kim Seonghwan here. As soon as he saw me, he hugged me tightly as if we were long-lost family members. Following him, Director Baek Janghun gave a warm smile.
“CEO Kim, sorry for making you wait. The breakfast was so delicious that I lost track of time. Now, let’s go inside.”
The atmosphere in grandpa’s office was as classic as the palace-like daegwol. Furniture stained with time and faded posters filled the walls. Each piece felt like an artist’s masterpiece. As always, ginger tea was served, and CEO Kim Seonghwan loosened his throat as if tense.
Drinking it like that would be hot and bitter.
CEO Kim Seonghwan made an awkward smile as he lifted the roof of his mouth. His expression was so comical that I almost laugh, but I managed to hold it back and look at the grandpa.
“CEO Kim, you know I’m preparing a new film for this winter, right?”
“Of course, I do. When you’re preparing a film, it’s no exaggeration to say that the whole Chungmuro knows about it. Our actors always yearn to appear in your film.”
“I’m sorry about that, but the audition must be fair. It’s just that there were no actors who matched the image I wanted. All your actors are excellent. They gather around you because you have a good disposition.”
CEO Kim Seonghwan looked embarrassed no matter what Director Baek Janghun said.
“I was originally planning to visit you for a specific reason, but I never thought you’d come first.”
“Not at all! Jang Yeongguk is staying at your house, so as the CEO of his agency, how could I not visit? Although Jang Yeongguk is a very upright and special child.”
“Well, a child like Jang Yeongguk is always welcome to stay at my house. Where can I find such an adorable and talkative child?”
“Thank you for saying that. But what was the reason?”
Grandpa sipped his tea and explained further.
“CEO Kim, it’s nothing much, but I want Jang Yeongguk to make a cameo appearance in the film I’m preparing this time.”
“Would it be an issue if it’s the teacher’s work!”
CEO Kim Seonghwan almost jumped up from his seat without realizing it. It was understandable since there was a saying in Chungmuro that being in a work of Director Baek Janghun was a real stroke of luck. He would cast all the roles through auditions, including the lead roles. Having a lot of acting experience didn’t guarantee getting cast. He would go through dozens of auditions to find the actors that fit the image he had in mind.
“Thanks for telling me. Now I should ask Yeongguk.”
I’d be fine with just doing the work, but what would he want to ask?
“Yeongguk, what do you think is the strength of a cameo?”
A cameo was close to being a scene-stealer. It often involved unexpectedly appearing in a part the audience didn’t anticipate, so even famous people would sometimes take on such roles without being the lead actors. Thanks to this, there were many cases where they would ad-lib instead of delivering uniform acting and dialogue. In that case.
“Wouldn’t it be adaptability?”
Grandpa smiled faintly.
* * *
Where is this?
The familiar schoolyard was filled with the first snow that had fallen overnight. Most college students were hurrying to their next classes. On the other hand, there were also couples leisurely walking hand in hand down the winter tree-lined streets.
The blue pond in the center of the schoolyard was always covered in frost during winter. It was Hanyeong University, where I had learned about acting in my past. Perhaps the feeling of nostalgia and longing in my eyes made Grandpa ask.
“Yeongguk, have you ever been here before?”
“No, I just thought it would be nice if there was a small pavilion in the middle of that pond.”
“Oh, the chairman’s friend also told me that story. Now that I see it, Yeongguk seems to have a sense of architectural beauty too?”
Oops, in my past life, there was a small pavilion in the middle of the blue pond.
“But Grandpa, why did you come here?”
“I wondered if there could be an actor suitable for a minor role. I also wanted to check the strengths of a cameo, so I brought you along for a dual purpose.”
What could he mean?
The auditorium was filled with numerous film students, including those from the Theater and Film department. After all, it was the day of Director Baek Janghun’s special lecture. Even students with free periods hurried to attend. I could feel the gazes directed at me.
It was natural since a small kid was sitting among the college students. A few recognized me, but as soon as Director Baek Janghun entered the auditorium, everyone stopped murmuring as if they had made a promise.
“Nice to meet you, Hanyeong University students. I never imagined so many students would gather to see this old man. Looking at all of you reminds me of the days when I studied film. Today’s special lecture will be a one-time event, but I hope it will remain deeply in the hearts of those who will become filmmakers in the future.”
The white tiger, wearing pure white clothes, looked even more prominent with his white hair. It wasn’t for nothing that he was called a master. He captured people’s attention with his charisma, even without using a microphone, and had an indescribable aura that filled every corner of the auditorium. It could only be described as the depth of time.
“Filmmaking is a harmonious product created by experts in various fields. Opinions often diverge on set, and voices naturally rise. It’s because everyone has their own thoughts. Integrating these thoughts and gathering them together is the director’s ability. So, I would like to ask you a question. If a director’s ability lies in harmony, what is an actor’s ability?”
College students eagerly raised their hands and answered. Of course, there was no intuitive right answer. Some might say that an actor’s role is to harmonize with the character in the script, while others might say that an actor’s performance should align with the director’s values.
“That’s right. All your answers can be considered correct. However, having been on the film set for a long time, I’ve come to think that it’s important for actors to always maintain their composure and act. It’s the ability to display the performance requested by the script and the director, regardless of the surrounding environment. I know there are many Theater and Film students here.”
That’s when Grandpa took out a small sheet of paper.
“I am a director who loves adventure. As a producer, an actor’s experience might be important, but not as a director. There is a need for untainted, pure actors, not just those with impressive experience. This is a scene from the work I am preparing. If there is an actor here who can handle this scene, I will not hesitate to cast them. It’s not a cameo, but a role that has not yet been cast. Of course, it’s a minor role, so I can’t say it has a lot of weight. Are there any aspiring ‘actors’ you have in mind?”
Not only Theater and Film students but also the auditorium filled with students’ eyes lit up. One after another, hands were raised everywhere. After all, they were students destined to make a living from acting. The majority wouldn’t refuse an opportunity to have their names on a line in the master’s work. That’s when it happened.
Could it be?
Grandpa’s gaze was directed at me. That’s when the conversation I had with Grandpa in the car came to my mind.
‘I wondered if there could be an actor suitable for a minor role.’
This was what he said to the students.
‘I also wanted to check the strengths of a cameo, so I brought you along for a dual purpose.’
This was what he said to me.
At that moment, Grandpa added.
“Um, it seems like we need a partner for the students to act with smoothly, don’t you think?”
Without realizing it, I raised my hand.
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