Manners make Golfers.
It’s a Scottish proverb. Like when you’re playing a casual game of Baduk (or Japanese Go), you need manners when facing a novice. It means there’s no need to flaunt your real skills. Act as if your first long drive was just beginner’s luck.
As proof, on the second hole, didn’t I intentionally show a terrible swing? Chairman Kim Daejin smiled as he watched the golf ball fly powerfully out of bounds.
“Your thigh strength looks good enough for a long hitter, just a little more polish and you’d make quite the golfer. Hey Janghun, bring Yeongguk here more often. It’d be good to get some young blood into our group!”
His voice was full of confidence. When Director Ahn Jongman scored a birdie on the second hole, he’s overjoyed, jumping up and down.
“That’s our Director Ahn, my judgment is spot on!”
“Thank you, Chairman.”
“Yes, let’s keep this up. The weather’s truly splendid today!”
Director Ahn Jongman looked like he had pulled off a coup. But starting from the next hole, Chairman Kim Daejin’s complexion began to change. Lo and behold, this time grandfather (Director Baek Janghun) recorded a birdie. Only then did Grandfather allow a smile to form on his lips and said,
“Now my shoulders are starting to loosen up.”
Thanks to that, the atmosphere of the golf round got hotter. Chairman Kim Daejin, true to his entrepreneurial spirit, had a competitive drive that was no joke. He focused all his energy on the golf ball atop the tee, aiming for at least par.
His focus was so intense that even the caddies stopped swallowing their saliva to watch, and Director Ahn Jongman clasped his hands together in hope. To an outsider, it might look like the finals of the PGA.
“Chairman, good shot!”
As the golf ball arched through the air with a long drive, Director Ahn Jongman clapped and cheered.
I’ve been to the country club so often in my past life since I started enjoying golf, frequently visiting even when it was raining.
It’s harder to play poorly on purpose.
Trying to keep the score even and playing poorly on purpose were more challenging than a perfect swing. If there was a sharp-eyed pro here, they might have noticed I was hiding my skills.
I’m not sure about now, but the golf course, like a gambling den, used to have its hustlers. They’d look for marks and swindle money through betting on golf. As a sport that was considered a symbol of the wealthy, there were, accordingly, many wealthy marks. I had even been in the sight of these golf hustlers. But,…
In a way, having poor social connections was lucky.
I never liked betting games, and unless it was with someone I knew well, I wouldn’t join others for a round. That saved me from a lot of trouble. But I knew all too well how to play golf hustling.
Just like now.
Neck and neck.
Throughout the 18 holes, Chairman Kim Daejin’s team and our team were neck and neck. With the victory hanging on a thread, not just Chairman Kim Daejin but also Director Ahn Jongman’s faces were dripping with sweat.
However, to someone with my past life’s semi-pro skills, both were slightly better than a bogey player (90 strokes). I could easily win if I wanted to, flipping them like pancakes, but I showed showmanship as if I was giving it my all.
In the end…
“It’s all square.”
At the caddy’s announcement of the final score, Chairman Kim Daejin’s face showed disappointment, while Grandfather’s was adorned with a satisfied smile. It was quite an achievement to score this well with a beginner in tow.
Director Ahn Jongman’s face was full of complex emotions. After all, he too was a family man who gave up his precious golden weekend to be here. That’s why he worked quite hard to match scores up to the last hole and maintain the tie.
“Daejin, it was fun today. Yeongguk’s skills are uneven, but not bad for a beginner, right?”
“Hmm, Janghun, I underestimated you. Director Ahn, don’t be too discouraged. It was a fun game after all. Let’s play together again next time. Practice makes perfect.”
“Thank you, Chairman!”
While everyone was enjoying this warm moment…
“Excuse me, Grandpa.”
Suddenly, all heads turned at the sound of my voice.
“It’s not a tie.”
“Yeongguk, what are you talking about?”
Confusion spread among the caddies as I reminded everyone of something they had forgotten.
“Before the match, Grandpa [Chairman Kim Daejin] gave me a handicap.”
* * *
At the clubhouse.
There was a saying that men quickly become friends when they played golf together. Going through an 18-hole golf round, both out and in, usually took about five hours. And then relaxing in the clubhouse sauna afterwards would naturally dispel any awkwardness.
Like a fire stoked in a hearth, steam was rising thickly. Being a private club, even the clubhouse exuded care and effort. In the Finnish-style wet sauna, four men sat closely together, only their lower halves covered by towels.
“Janghun, I lost the bet today. So, I guess I should treat you to a lavish dinner like last time?”
“Heh, that’s a given, but the essence of the bet lies elsewhere, doesn’t it? Yeongguk, what did Daejin say to you before playing golf?”
“He said he’d grant me whatever I wanted.”
“Well then, since the parties involved need to come to an agreement, I’ll excuse myself first. How about you, Director Ahn? It would be good for us to leave together. Unlike Chairman Kim who enjoys long saunas, folks like us might just collapse if we stay too long.”
Grandfather tactfully excused himself from the room. Following his lead, Director Ahn Jongman also awkwardly rose to his feet at the short nod from Chairman Kim Daejin, and they both left the sauna. Eventually, only Chairman Kim Daejin and I were left in the steam-filled sauna.
I stood up and flipped over the hourglass. It’s a 10-minute hourglass, signifying my intention to finish our conversation within that time. The moment a grain of sand fell because of gravity…
“Chairman, what do you think is the essence of a distribution company?”
I asked, catching him off guard.
Chairman Kim Daejin looked puzzled by the unexpected question.
“It’s about providing the audience with better quality films and, additionally, assisting in the production and planning of movies.”
I wiped away the naïve appearance I showed during the golf round.
“That’s true, but to put it more intuitively, isn’t the essence of a distribution company about the timing of movie releases, the number of screens, and the promotion of films—in other words, the pursuit of profit?”
At this, the corners of Chairman Kim Daejin’s eyes took on a curious expression.
“The film industry is a high-risk, high-return business. Within it, distribution companies undoubtedly hold the reins.”
“To hold the reins, that’s not entirely incorrect. I see now that Yeongguk knows quite a bit about the film industry. Then let me ask you something: What do you think will happen to the film industry in the future?”
“The film industry will grow over time, and its branches will expand beyond domestic borders to the world. But it’s a structure that is bound to produce mistakes.”
Chairman Kim Daejin furrowed his brow. After all, it was his life’s work at stake here. Daejung Group had established itself as a leading corporation in South Korea with the movie industry as its backbone. In a way, it’s as if a young pup was pointing out to a tiger the flaws of the film industry.
Yet, I was aware of the future.
“While I won’t dispute that the current vertical integration of the movie industry is leading to an increase in market expansion, this could also accelerate the establishment of a monopoly. Of course, from an entrepreneur’s viewpoint, a monopoly might be welcomed with open arms as it prevents ‘too many cooks spoiling the broth.’ But on the other hand, if there’s only one helmsman, the ship might not move forward at all.”
“The ship not moving?”
“Are you aware that Daejeong Distribution is currently producing a blockbuster with a budget of 100 billion won?”
“I know. Nothing moves in Daejeong Distribution without my permission.”
“What if that 100 billion won movie flops? What would be the reason?”
Chairman Kim Daejin’s eyes widened. It was understandable that he might be displeased by the suggestion that a film produced by his company could fail. But I couldn’t stop now. Like a car with broken brakes, I had no choice but to keep accelerating.
But true to his reputation as a magnate who built one of Korea’s top conglomerates, Chairman Kim Daejin regained his composure and asked,
“Yeongguk, I’d like to hear your thoughts first. Assuming that happens, what do you think the reason would be?”
“If you agree to what I want, I’ll tell you.”
“Seems like you want something unconventional.”
“What I want is this: Daejeong Distribution, the entity behind the production and investment of the 100 billion won blockbuster, to independently evaluate that film and mine, The Priest’s Confession. Naturally, I’m suggesting postponing the release of the blockbuster until after the premiere of The Priest’s Confession. After all, it would be better for the distribution company to enjoy the benefits of catching two birds with one stone rather than focusing solely on one big fish.”
Of course, catching two birds with one stone was not going to happen. That 100 billion won blockbuster would become notorious enough to leave a stain in the history of Korean cinema.
After what seemed like a moment of contemplation, Chairman Kim Daejin nodded briefly.
“Let’s do that, but it’ll take some time since we’ll need to verify certain things. However, I, Kim Daejin, will make sure to accommodate your wish. Now, tell me, why do you think a movie to which Daejeong had invested a hundred billion won would fail?”
“I’ve read the script for that work. And, well, its content is quite metaphysical. Really.”
The reason for the movie’s failure?
“Are audiences ready to accept it?”
Of course, this was just one of many issues. The public was not yet ready to embrace Daejeong’s 100 billion won blockbuster. That would still be the case in the future. The content was bizarre, to say the least.
Probably the most significant reason would be that the immense investment of 100 billion won did not translate into exceptional quality. This would come to light much later, thanks to an investigation by the prosecution.
That reason would be clear…
“Too many thieves.”
I didn’t say what was the true cause. After all, there’s no way to prove it right now. But Chairman Kim Daejin, who was still deep in thought, seemed satisfied with this answer. Eventually, the last grains of sand in the hourglass fell.
Just as I was about to get up from my seat, Chairman Kim Daejin asked me,
“Was this what you were aiming for when you agreed to that bet at the beginning?”
“Grandpa, what are you talking about? The conversation we just had was a fair exchange.”
“What I want for winning the bet is something else.”
As I left the sauna, I reverted to my high school student persona.
“Please buy me a tasty hardboiled egg.”
* * *
One week later.
The filming site, which had been shrouded in coldness for a while, began to be filled with a warm and friendly atmosphere. The reason was simple: The winter parkas I had ordered in advance had arrived.
Though it was still autumn, overnight shoots often left us shivering in the cold. Everyone probably had their own personal cold-weather gear, but was there anything more enjoyable than receiving a gift?
“Yeongguk, isn’t this too expensive?”
“Ah, the directors treat me so well on set. This gift is nothing compared to the love I’ve received.”
“How can you always speak so prettily? Seonwoo, did you thank Yeongguk?”
“Ah, Park-sunbae. I went to him first thing when I got to the set. And you’re now only thanking Yeongguk after trying on the parka, right?”
“You little… It’s only because Seokcheol made such a big deal that I try it on.”
“Don’t make me your excuse again.”
“Seokcheol, you should reflect on yourself, man. We’re trying to save on production costs, so we only have a few handwarmers. Yeongguk ended up getting us these expensive parkas. Anyway, Yeongguk, really thank you. This winter will be a bit warmer thanks to you.”
Everyone seemed to appreciate the heartfelt gift. In the future, it would become common for celebrities to recognize the staff’s hard work and give them gifts after shooting, but at this time, such gestures were rare. Probably because even if they went to such lengths, there weren’t any internet media outlets to spread such good stories.
Not only the shooting team but also the props and art teams came to express their thanks. Naturally, their warm smiles made me feel warm as well.
Why didn’t I realize how good this was back then?
As my desire for acting intensified, I gradually became awkward in human relationships. On set, I was often called a “crazy actor,” and as soon as shooting ended, it was almost routine for me to get in the car and read the script for the next episode.
As a result, I always missed out on after-parties, and from a certain point, I even skipped the wrap-up party. Hence the label “good at acting but poor at socializing” was always attached to me. I never knew back then that exchanging feelings and interacting with someone could be so precious.
In the meantime.
Director Shin is still looking serious.
Director Shin Seonghyeon thanked me for the gift as soon as he arrived on set, but his expression was still not good. It seemed that the distribution company hadn’t contacted him yet. Should I give him a heads up? Or could it be that Chairman Kim Daejin had forgotten?
“What’s that now?”
A luxury car entered the filming site. Assistant Director Kim Seokcheol’s eyes widened as he threw his arms up over his head in a gesture of stopping. No outsiders were allowed on set during filming. However, the luxury car entered regardless. Eventually, Kim Seokcheol rushed towards the car.
Then, with a shocked shout from Seokcheol, a man and a familiar figure got out of the back seat of the luxury car.
It was Chairman Kim Daejin. Surprise was evident in the eyes of others as well. If it was a cinematographer who had been in the movie industry for a long time, there was no way they wouldn’t recognize him.
Chairman Kim Daejin of Daejeong Group, like Director Baek Janghun, was a figure who stood at the starting point of the South Korean film industry.
Grandfather (Chairman Kim Daejin) greeted me warmly.
* * *
“Isn’t Yeongguk like Chairman Kim Daejin’s hidden son or something?”
“Come on, Park-sunbae, is this reality or a drama? Stop talking nonsense.”
“Man, there are many cases where reality is more dramatic than drama. How can someone who claims to be in the film arts have such a lack of imagination?”
“That’s not imagination, it’s delusion, delusion! Does it make any sense that Chairman Kim Daejin would have a young son like Yeongguk? It would be more believable if you said Yeongguk was his grandson.”
“Oh, that makes more sense. Think about it, he came with the CEO of Daejeong Distribution. That guy is Chairman Kim Daejin’s eldest son. Could it be that Yeongguk is a third-generation chaebol or something?”
“Let’s hurry up with the filming preparations instead of gossiping!”
Director Shin Seonghyeon intervened, calming the chaotic mood on set. He was just as flustered. It was because the CEO of the distribution company, whom he had trouble meeting even once when he visited, had come to the set along with the chairman of Daejeong Group. The stated reason was that they wanted to observe the filming of the movie, but no one knew what their true intentions were.
Director Shin Seonghyeon’s gaze turned to a corner of the film set. There, Yeongguk, Chairman Kim Daejin, and the CEO of the distribution company, Kim Jeongwoo, were together.
“Grandpa, is this the verification procedure you mentioned before?”
“Indeed, Yeongguk, you’re as perceptive as I’ve heard. The timing of the release is a sensitive matter, so we need to verify certain things. I came here to see how the film industry has been doing after a while. Oh, I apologize for the late introduction. This gentleman beside me is Kim Jeongwoo, from Daejeong Distribution, whom you’ve been badmouthing so much.”
“Nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you from my father. I’m Kim Jeongwoo, the CEO of Daejeong Distribution.”
“No, when did I ever badmouth you? Hello, I’m Actor Jang Yeongguk.”
He seemed to have taken offense. He must still harbor some feelings about the comment I made when we were in the sauna (A boat doesn’t move forward if there’s only one helmsman). On the other hand, CEO Kim Jeongwoo still looked at me with an interested gaze.
As Chairman Kim Daejin decided to tour the filming site with his secretary, CEO Kim Jeongwoo turned to me and said,
“It’s been a while since my father has taken such an interest in something. He was so insistent on visiting the filming site that I had no choice but to come, but I apologize if we’ve caused any inconvenience. I’ve already apologized to Director Shin, but I feel we owe the biggest apology to you, the actor, who has to perform.”
“It’s okay, really.”
“Actor Jang, may I have a moment to speak with you?”
“Yes, that’s fine.”
“I am a film person before a businessman. That’s why I specifically took charge of Daejeong Distribution, even though it’s not the most profitable among the many affiliates of Daejeong Group.”
If Daejeong Distribution wasn’t considered profitable, what was their standard? Honestly, I could never quite figure out the world of chaebols.
That’s when he said—
“So, as a fellow film person, I found the proposal you made to my father, or rather Chairman Kim, to be quite intriguing. I’ve been wondering what aspect of Actor Jang made my father accept your proposal. As promised by Chairman Kim, we’ll ensure the release dates don’t clash. And…”
“As a token for enjoying today’s film shoot, is there anything I can do for you? It would only be fair to compensate for the interruption, as you believe in equivalent exchange.”
This guy had a generous spirit.
“May I ask for anything?”
At my bold stance, CEO Kim Jeongwoo showed a satisfied smile. That’s right, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
“If I manage to impress both the Chairman and you at today’s shoot, would you be willing to double the promotional investment for The Priest’s Confession?”
A film’s quality was important, but so was its promotion. It was no wonder people talked about the so-called “advertising war.” CEO Kim Jeongwoo’s eyes narrowed in a curious way, reminiscent of the look his father gave me in the sauna room.
He said it as easily as if he was offering to buy dinner. It seemed that Chairman Kim Daejin had a bit of a sucker streak, and CEO Kim Jeongwoo appeared to be the same. When there’s a big fish on the hook, who could wait?
After CEO Kim Jeongwoo left, I sat in the waiting room and continued reading the script. Despite having read it countless times, my level of immersion was remarkable now that I had a goal.
“Standby is complete!”
Assistant Director Kim Seokcheol’s voice carried all the way to the waiting room.
Now, with a sucker in place, it was time for the gambler to shine.
 Meaning a tie