As my manager was sitting in the driver’s seat and biting into a street toast filled with cabbage, he looked at me wide-eyed as if he was a bear caught stealing honey. It’s uncomfortable to see him not even able to eat his meal in peace, waiting for me without knowing when I’ll be done.
“Yeongguk, is the audition over already?”
“Hyung, let’s talk after you finish eating. Take your time. We’ve got plenty of it. You could have stopped by a restaurant while I was at the audition.”
“No way. What if people recognize your face while you’re waiting, and they crowd around you? Then, I’ll win a one-on-one meeting with the CEO. Ugh, it’s horrifying just thinking about it.”
“The CEO isn’t that strict, you know.”
“Don’t even say it. It’s a secret, but the CEO’s nickname is ‘Coin.’ They say he has two sides. He’s like a Buddha most of the time, but when angry, he’s terrifying. He doesn’t tolerate even a little mistake, especially when it comes to the manager’s handling of the actors.”
It was surprising. Wasn’t CEO Kim Seonghwan always kind-hearted? But it’s good for a businessman to clearly distinguish between public and private matters, especially since Sonwon Entertainment will grow even more in the future.
“Anyway, do auditions usually end this quickly?”
Remembering my past life experiences, auditions for significant supporting roles often took a long time. They needed to carefully check the actor’s performance, lines, and tone, as well as their understanding of the script. If that’s the case for supporting roles, how much more for the leading roles?
Auditions could take all day in extreme cases, so it was rare for them to end so quickly. At that moment, Manager Lee Bongchun cautiously asked,
“Did it not go well by any chance?”
“There’s no way. Don’t worry about it, Bongchun-hyung. Let’s go have a proper lunch. How about some pork soup for a change? If you go straight down the main road and turn right after passing the roundabout, there’s a Busan-style soup restaurant. The taste there is amazing!”
“Oh! Yeongguk, you’ve been there too? I once stopped by when I was picking you up. It hasn’t been long since they opened, but the taste is just like what I had in Busan! But it’s not a private room-style place, so is it okay to go? What if people recognize us?”
“It’s already past lunchtime, and it’s a weekday, so there won’t be many customers. And even if they recognize us, so what? We need to eat to work.”
It was a soup restaurant I often visited in my past life. Back then, it was a famous old restaurant that had been open for several decades. Whenever I was tired of living in Seoul or had to swallow the bitterness of failing an audition, I would go there. With a spoonful of soup and a shot of soju, everything would be forgotten. Of course, now that I’m back to being a minor, I’ll have to give up the soju.
At that same time, there was an eerie silence in Director Shin Seonghyeon’s office, as if time had stopped. Everyone had a blank expression on their faces. The first one to break the silence was none other than AD Kim Seokcheol. His murmuring spread throughout the office like paint being poured into a container.
“Was that just a dream…?”
In the empty seat where the actor who had just given a chilling performance had been, it seemed he was still there. There was no need to see any more scenes. Not only did he give a perfect performance, but he also reinterpreted the script. There was no denying that he was the protagonist of the script; it felt like they were watching the actual movie just moments ago.
The goosebumps that had risen like hives all over their bodies still hadn’t subsided. That’s when AD Kim Seokcheol turned and looked at Director Shin Seonghyeon sitting beside him.
“Director, no, Shin-hyung. The contract! Have you prepared the contract? Snap out of it and come to your senses!”
“A contract? How could I have been in the right mind to prepare a contract?”
“Ah, seriously, what should we do? Should we go to Sonwon now? Let’s get a new investor somehow, and we’ll match his conditions as much as possible. We can’t shoot this movie without actor Jang!”
Even the production team members, initially opposed to the script changes, vigorously nodded in agreement. Even if they had to use half of their production budget, they had to cast Jang Yeongguk.
Rather, the fact that they made him participate in a private audition was a double-edged sword. What if Actor Jang changed his mind because he was upset? They anxiously thought of all possibilities. But everyone had a mesmerized look on their faces as Director Shin Seonghyeon continued speaking.
“Actor Jang is our movie’s new investor.”
* * *
After lunch, I returned to Sonwon Entertainment and found a familiar face waiting. In the CEO’s office, Kim Seonghwan and the snake-like PD Kim Jin sat across from each other, the latter waving a hand in greeting. At that, CEO Kim Seonghwan rose from his seat to explain.
“PD Kim, why don’t you discuss this with Yeongguk? After all, the opinion of the person involved is most important.”
What could he mean? As CEO Kim Seonghwan gave up his seat, only PD Kim Jin and I were left in the CEO’s office. The first to speak was none other than PD Kim Jin.
“Yeongguk, what do you think about extending the drama?”
“Why the sudden talk of an extension? Are you looking for a toolbox?”
“Hey, I’m not talking about a toolbox. I’m asking what you think of extending the drama’s broadcast. Sometimes you’re quick as a ghost, but at times like this, you don’t understand! Would I come here on a golden holiday to look for a toolbox? Are you pretending not to understand?”
With only a few dramas under my belt in my past life, how could I not know about “extended broadcast”? It’s the opposite of an early ending, where the broadcasting company extends the number of episodes of a drama with overwhelmingly high ratings.
Increasing the number of episodes meant changing the entire schedule for a year, so it was a huge decision for the broadcasting company. That’s why discussing an extension was difficult unless it was a drama worth risking.
“Whose mouth did it come from? The director?”
“Yeongguk, I didn’t think you were like that. Are you trying to ride the higher-ups’ line already? Who cares where it came from?”
It was important. If it’s just a discussion, there’s no need for me to argue about it. PD Kim Jin looked at my serious gaze and then added an explanation.
“Ugh, fine, it came from the president’s side. Are you satisfied?”
“Yeah, hey. Right now, no one on the set knows about this issue except for you, me, and Actor Seo.”
It turned out to be quite a big fish. The fact that the broadcasting company’s president personally intervened meant it was almost as good as confirmed after going through the discussion stage. Of course, the most important thing would be the writer’s and the actors’ opinions. As if reading my thoughts, PD Kim Jin leaned forward.
“I heard that Youth is incredibly popular in Japan right now. TBK started broadcasting it two weeks ago, and the ratings for the first episode broke their own records.”
“No way, it’s been less than a month since they bought the rights, and they’ve already started airing it?”
“Why not? There’s no reason it can’t happen. They bought it with their money, so it’s up to them. Right?”
Ah, I see.
I forgot that the current situation was in the past. In the future, drama rights will be sold all over Asia, riding the Korean Hallyu Wave. However, most contracts specified that overseas broadcasts should be after the domestic airing ended, and there are several reasons for that.
First, simultaneously broadcasting the drama can cause chaos on set because of the influx of overseas fans wanting to see their favorite drama being filmed. Second, if a drama aired at the same time overseas as it did domestically, the actors’ schedules would become overwhelmed, and their rest time would be reduced.
But such systematic guidelines are not in place at the moment. It made sense since, although they had sold the rights overseas before, it was almost the first time they had sold them for such a high price. PD Kim Jin continued speaking, waking me up from my thoughts.
“So now there’s chaos among the drama executives. If the broadcast is extended in Japan, they’re apparently willing to pay double the royalties for the additional episodes. They must think it’s profitable since it’s so popular.”
“From the broadcasting company’s perspective, it’s like catching a big fish while digging a ditch. In addition to the ratings, they can get more from overseas royalties.”
“Hey, don’t be so harsh. Do you think I want to extend it? But at least you’ll get additional appearance fees for the extended episodes. All I get is my monthly salary.”
“Why are you leaving out your performance bonus?”
“Wow, you’re acting like you know everything about the broadcasting company’s situation even though you’re so young? You’re right. I admit it. But the performance bonus from a terrestrial broadcasting company isn’t that big. Do you think I’d want to do this extension thing and mess up my nights for that? I have no choice but to ask because they’re pressuring me from above.”
“I’m sure Writer Hwang flatly refused, but what about Minhye-noona?”
“See, I told you, you’re like a ghost. I didn’t even mention Writer Hwang’s reactions, but you picked up on it.”
It was obvious why PD Kim Jin had come all the way to the agency. Since Writer Hwang had refused the extension, the higher-ups wanted to persuade her through the lead actors. Not only the main supporting actors but even the bit players welcomed the broadcast extension. Wouldn’t that be natural? As the drama was extended, they could enjoy more popularity, along with the fees.
“Actor Seo’s agency agreed, but she said she’d do it only if Yeongguk does it too.”
I didn’t expect that. However, my answer would have been the same regardless of Seo Minhye’s.
“I’m against extending the broadcast. The work should end where the writer intended.”
My answer might have been different if it had been my previous life. But I’ve vowed to live this life as an actor. I wanted to leave a proper filmography rather than cling to guarantees and popularity.
“Really? Is that how you think?”
“Of course. It’s the same with painting. If you forcibly expand the canvas, the picture will only fade. It’s unfortunate for those with different opinions, but that’s what I think.”
PD Kim Jin seemed to understand and nodded briefly before getting up from his seat. It was strange that the so-called King Cobra Kim Jin gave up too easily, but what could be done? PD Kim Jin exited the CEO’s office with a resigned look but a faint smile, his eyes seeming to say, “As expected, I have a knack for reading people.”
It wasn’t long before CEO Kim Seonghwan returned to his office. Seeing his worn-out shoes, I couldn’t help but feel sorry. I had selectively picked only a few advertisements from the numerous offers I received. If it had been another agency’s CEO, they might have already forced me to sign and film the CFs.
“I’m sorry, CEO.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about. Straighten your shoulders.”
CEO Kim Seonghwan showed a kind smile and raised his thumb.
“An actor should be self-centered.”
* * *
The late summer heat had retreated, and the waves were calm. Seagulls paired up and flew around the pier just as young women formed a line and walked along the corners of the market. Their Japanese pronunciation stood out even among the Busan ajummas’ thick dialect.
“According to the column, this should be the right way…”
“No, if we go this way, we’ll go around the long way.”
“Should we ask the merchants?”
These were Japanese tourists. Because of Busan’s status as a port city and its geographic location, many foreign tourists who visited Busan were Japanese. However, they weren’t here to sightsee the market but seemed to be looking for something specific as they wandered around.
After searching through the market’s nooks and crannies, they stopped before a familiar store as if they had discovered a treasure.
“We found it!”
Namhang’s son, Yeongguk—!
They entered the store adorned with a fancy signboard, and several of them paired up. Thanks to them, Yeongguk’s mother and the fish seller ajumma, Mrs. Yang, who were chatting inside the store, were startled and got up.
Of course, it was unusual for them to have young ladies visit, especially at the least busy time of day. Moreover, they didn’t look Korean and spoke a foreign language, making the situation even more confusing. That’s when Mrs. Yang stepped in for Yeongguk’s bewildered mother.
“What do you want with Namhang?”
Having sold fish at Namhang Market for a long time, Mrs. Yang was no stranger to foreign tourists. She spoke a third language that was a mix of Korean and Japanese. However, the Japanese tourists seemed glad to understand her.
Confused, Mrs. Yang tried to show them a fish, but one of the tourists took out a photo from her bag. The laminated picture featured Kim Dojin (Yeongguk) from the drama Youth. At the sight of it, Yeongguk’s mother rubbed her eyes and approached.
“That’s my son’s picture…?”
“Yeongguk’s mother, just wait a minute. These girls aren’t talking about the fish but your son from the drama. His name in the drama is Kim Dojin, right? That’s what they’re looking for, not the fish, right?”
Finally, the Japanese tourists rejoiced as if they’d understood each other. They took pictures with Yeongguk’s mother and bought all the seafood in the store. They even bought the fish that Mrs. Yang was selling at her store. This wouldn’t be the end of the line, as such processions would continue.
The popularity of Youth had just begun to ignite in Japan. Yeongguk’s popularity brought back the heyday of Namhang once again.
* * *
The latter half.
As the end of summer approached, the filming for Youth neared its conclusion. The latter half of a drama filming usually felt like a war zone. With partial scripts and all-nighters, it was a continuous struggle.
However, Youth was different because it was a fully-backed production from the broadcasting station. No wonder people in the broadcasting industry wished they could film as comfortably as Youth.
“Yeongguk, did you see the article? Youth is hugely popular in Japan.”
Manager Lee Bongchun asked me as we were driving to the filming set. I heard about it from PD Kim Jin when he visited our agency a few days ago. Also, the media has been reporting on the huge success of Youth in Japan. This was an extraordinary event since the Korean Wave had yet to make a splash overseas.
“But why are there so many people at the filming site?”
Holding the steering wheel, the manager asked as I poked my head out to look outside the car window. The filming site usually banned outsiders from entering. Not only ordinary people but reporters were blocked from access to prevent the content of the second half of the filming from being leaked. However…
It was bustling.
There were indeed a lot of people. It was as if they were at a concert venue. FDs and all the broadcasting staff members were out trying to stop them but it seemed insufficient. The car couldn’t even enter the filming site, so it had to stop. Suddenly, the back door of the car opened.
“Yeongguk! Don’t get off!”
PD Kim Jin hurriedly got into the car, out of breath. One couldn’t find the usual composure on PD Kim Jin’s face. As proof, his face and back were covered in sweat. If a stranger saw him, they would think he had just finished a round of exercise.
“PD, who are all these people? They’re all similar in age and all female, so they can’t be local residents, can they?”
“Don’t even ask. They’re all your fans.”
“They said they came in as a group from Japan. Some reporters must have written the location of our filming site in a column while writing about their impressions of the drama. We can’t even kick them out because they brought so many gifts for you. The situation is so chaotic that the FDs and staff members are using all sorts of gestures to communicate, but we don’t know if they can’t understand or are pretending not to understand how much they’re pushing. We can’t even call the police. Ah, Actress Seo’s car has arrived too.”
PD Kim Jin turned his head and noticed Actress Seo Minhye’s car parked right behind ours. She also couldn’t enter the filming site because of the current situation.
“Yeongguk, you don’t know what’s going on, so don’t get out of the car for now. Who knows what kind of trouble might arise if you do. If it really doesn’t work, we might have to call private security guards and set up a barricade. This is the first time something like this has happened in my entire career as a PD!”
It was understandable that PD Kim Jin was flustered. Nowadays, the fandom culture for actors is virtually non-existent, so handling such a situation was naturally awkward. But my case was different.
In my past life, I had seen all sorts of scenes as an idol-turned-actor who had worked with other idol-turned-actors many times. Fans would send food trucks to the filming sites and even visit the filming sites themselves.
That’s why they’re so keen on casting idols.
The faster an idol with a solid fandom debuted as a lead actor, the more likely it was to secure viewership ratings. Of course, there were numerous cases where dramas with idols as lead actors failed because of their acting skills.
“I’ll handle it.”
“Yeongguk, no. I’ll go down and take a look at the situation first!”
The two tried to stop me, but it was already too late. I opened the back seat door and walked towards the filming site. My manager and PD Kim Jin followed me, flustered.
I had seen this scene many times in my past life at the filming site. People would jokingly say they were taming the fans. I had also seen how idols dealt with their fans. So, from my position, I wasn’t scared or nervous. I just had to resolve the situation quickly.
Upon seeing me, the Japanese fans hurriedly got up from their seats and ran toward me.
“Everyone, please slowly walk over and gather in front of me. Ah, don’t push the people in front of you. Those in the front, be careful not to get too close. You might trip. You all came all the way from Japan just to see me, right?”
I never thought my rusty Japanese from my past life would come in handy like this.
On the other hand, the filming staff, PD Kim Jin, Manager Lee Bongchun, Actress Seo Minhye, who had gotten out of her car at some point, and her manager all couldn’t hide their surprise.
Not only the fact that I was speaking Japanese but also that the Japanese fans, who weren’t listening before, were now being controlled by my words. The fans’ eyes, filled with admiration and longing, gazed at me.
“I am truly honored to meet you all like this. I would like to meet each and every one of you, shake hands, and give autographs, but as you know, the filming is very busy right now. I will try my best to set up a separate time for our overseas fans at our agency as soon as possible. So for today, please just see my face and go back. In Japan, you say yubikiri, right?”
A gesture of a promise by crossing pinky fingers.
When Yeongguk raised his pinky finger in the air, the Japanese fans also eagerly raised their pinky fingers in the air. Where did he learn such social skills? PD Kim Jin and the entire filming team were astonished like they had seen a ghost.
 The term “연장” in Korean can mean both an “extension” and “extension tool,” hence Yeongguk’s confusion.
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