It’s a sweltering August day, as hot as it is inside the classroom as it is outside when the air conditioners on the set are turned off to prevent the sound being recorded when they start filming for the day. Add to that, the cast are wearing long-sleeved school uniform as costume, with vest over it, topped with cardigan too, and Choi Hyunsuk is just about ready to catch fire.
The 2nd Assistant Director walks inside the room, shepherding the extras acting as students into the hallway and leaving only a few in their seats as key positions inside the frame of a static shot they’ve all been informed beforehand they’d be doing, and finished blocking about two hours ago.
“We’re going to do scene 247 first,” she tells this to the Focus Puller, responsible for controlling the focus of a shot in progress, who answers with a firm nod and sidles behind the static camera to get it ready to roll.
Hyunsuk and his scene partner takes that as their cue and without further prodding, they are on their feet at once and are ambling towards their own position where scene 247 takes off.
He rolls his shoulders and places his palms flat on the desk of Han Yujun, the character his scene partner is playing, and concentrates into donning the skin of Lee Ilseong, his own character who, in this particular scene, hates Yujun with every fiber of his being—that’s no problem to Hyunsuk because everything about his scene partner, about Park Jihoon, sickens him too—he rolls his eyes down towards the guy who’s making himself comfortable on his seat, sliding his upper half over his desk and resting the line of his sharp jaw on his left palm, head angled upwards to look at Hyunsuk through his long lashes, eyes glassy and looking bored because that’s what the script indicates on how Yujun is taking Ilseong’s imminent confrontation of his actions.
How dare you sit there languidly, Hyunsuk thinks to himself, appraise my worth with your sharp eyes and look so comely while you’re at it? And he can admit that for a moment, for a second, for a blink of an eye, for that short a time, he forgets himself, appreciating the actor’s straight nose, proportioned lips, and moles that look like a spray of art on his canvas of a face—definitely a choice for their make-up artists not to cover any of them with foundation or concealers. And of course, Park Jihoon ruins it all by opening his fucking mouth to blurt aloud, “Don’t you think Hyunsuk-ssi looks too sweaty for this scene?”
And god, he isn’t the only one burning in this room when they’re in closed quarters in the middle of a hot summer day with no fans to bring any ventilation because of the noise they’ll make, which may prove challenging for their audio mixers to fix and make as unobtrusive as possible to their viewing audience. Everyone’s enduring the heat, and although it may be part of him as an actor to control his body’s movements and facial expressions, Hyunsuk can’t very well command his physiological responses—so sweat there is, beading his forehead and the tip of his nose.
One of their standby makeup artists rushes to Hyunsuk’s side to dab at his face with tissue, carefully fixing his makeup in the process and even spraying his face with setting mist again, and he uses that intervening moment to narrow his eyes at his scene partner, cursing the guy internally for looking all bright and fresh, skin so white and aglow under their gaffer’s lighting, and he swears a hint of a grin is playing on Park Jihoon’s lips then.
There’s a strain between Choi Hyunsuk and Park Jihoon, which works for the scenes they’ve shot so far: Lee Ilseong and Han Yujun, despite being in the same block of a senior graduating class, are not friendly with each other, and his scene partner feeds off of it, anchors his acting to it, which aggravates the hell out of Hyunsuk, but he’s not the only one who can do it, so when their kangdongnim yells “and action!” he delivers his line bitingly:
“Keep looking at me like that,” Hyunsuk-as-Ilseong grits out a threat.
His scene partner hurls a maddening response of, “As you wish,” with an equally infuriating shrug of his shoulders, mouth protruding for an exaggerated pout as subtext to say he’s not chagrined the least bit.
The script describes “the look” as scoping Ilseong out but with Jihoon’s eyes, or with Park-as-Yujun, it seems as if he’s scooping Hyunsuk out like he’s a tub of ice cream, which reminds him of their disastrous table read during preproduction.
It’s the first time the cast are gathered together with the writing staff and producers inside a conference room, and with a line of blossoming cherry trees outside the huge glass windows serving as their backdrop, they recite their script out loud. Hyunsuk, being a side character, only has a few lines to say for the rest of the script made available to them, which comprised the first four episodes of their 16-episode series, and he’s trying to be casual by turning the page at the same time as everyone else no matter how there’s an urge inside him to flip the pages to settle on his part and read his lines over and over in his excitement. And when he hears the veteran actors being gently corrected with regard to their line deliveries by their director and head scriptwriter, asking, “is that how you’d normally say it or how your character would?” even with their leads Bang Yedam and Watanabe Haruto, Hyunsuk thinks everything’s fair play so he reminds himself to be in the moment, that he’s playing a character too, and he cannot fuck things up, especially when he’s still this early in the game.
That’s the thing about read-throughs, people can still get fired even if they blew away the casting director and the rest of the competition out of the water during the auditions with their skills and techniques. And yet, Lady Luck didn’t smile Hyunsuk’s way when Watanabe Haruto finishes saying a line he didn’t hear him start but just knows there’s a response being anticipated from Ilseong because Hyunsuk plays the role of a good friend of Fuse Kazuki, Watanabe’s character. And well, the rest of the cast’s heads are swiveled towards his direction too, so there’s that.
He struggles to find his place in the script until Watanabe scoots his chair closer to him and points on the page, with his painted fingernail, the exact scene they are on. Hyunsuk looks up at the guy after a few beats of potent silence from their table read to recite his line, the feeling of relief and gratitude lacing his tone:
“Check-out the Compliment Drive tables set-up in our cafeteria and lobby all week. Stop by one of these tables to write a compliment on a cup, or paper, or sticky note that will be given to another student you intended for the compliment to be received. Help us spread kindness across our school community!”
And Hyunsuk’s eyes make a sweep of everyone in the room, spying how their director Yoon Jaehyuk curls a fist over his mouth, humming, and then mumbling with a cock of his head to their head screenwriter, “The delivery is a bit fast, no? It may be because of Hyunsuk-ssi’s nerves,” and instantly his heart gives out at that, and he can feel the tips of his ears burn from mortification. Their kangdongnim removes the fist obscuring his face to lift his mouth for a reassuring smile he directs to Hyunsuk before facing Jeon Somi, “which is fine, we’re all a bundle of nerves at table reads, and it works for Ilseong since he’s a big fan of hip-hop, can be a character quirk too?”
“Making a note on that,” the woman replies with a raise of her pen in the air, smiling thinly, probably none too pleased that they’re making additions to character nuances at this time.
Their director gives them a visual cue to resume reading by shooting a finger gun at them and Hyunsuk stifles a sigh of relief, eyes being pulled then to the guy seating opposite him. Actor Park Jihoon stares head on as he places his chin on top of his interlocked fingers, lifting a dainty brow his way, and he’s read that as judgment at his recent blunder.
Watanabe-as-Kazuki chimes in with a bob of his head, gripping his own script closer to his person as he squints down to it, “Shout-out to all of the students who have submitted compliments for the school-wide Compliment Drive—keep the compliments coming! Just remember that this event is related to Hangul Day and the Broadcast Club washes our hands clean from those tagging this drive as a chance to confess to your crushes. Yes, we do read your notes—”
And Hyunsuk has to act as if he’s panicking to turn off Kazuki’s mic from the control board so he reaches over Watanabe’s side of the round table to tap his palm in front of the guy and declares, “Ya! Do you have to add that bit?”
Watanabe mimes the action as if he’s removing the headphones from his ears—an ad lib—because the words he recites next are off-script, “Sorry, didn’t hear what you just said?” and then he enlarges his eyes and shakes his hands to stress about the headphones—of course, being inside a supposed-radio station room for the broadcast club means they’re currently on-air for the listening student body, which also means they’re wearing headphones.
That bit sends every one of the cast into laughter with their director lauding their main lead’s wit alongside Bang remarking with an excited chatter, ohhh attention to detail. And the read-through continues without any more hitches from then on but Hyunsuk’s cheeks heat up every time he recalls the embarrassing episode, especially when it’s used as a leverage against his acting skills. His scene partner made sure his opinion of the incident is made known to Hyunsuk then when he decides to leave their building’s lobby, that table read-day, to wait outside for his manager currently fetching their old Hatchback.
“We have one of those today, huh?” he hears Park Jihoon make an off-hand comment to his own manager who’s busy looking down at her own phone to notice that the guy’s eyes are latched at his person. “Stars who act badly but whose faces attract the viewing audience.”
The guy’s voice is light enough and yet loud enough for Hyunsuk to catch, and he knows his co-actor’s words are meant for him. Who else could he be pertaining then?
“You have to be more specific than that,” says his young-looking manager as if she’s somehow attuned to Hyunsuk’s ponderings, her thumbs busy fiddling with her phone screen while she chews on her bottom lip, “the industry is littered with them.”
Park Jihoon’s own lips slope for a condescending smile as he folds his arms over his chest, rolls his eyes upwards, as if in thought, before he lets his gaze settle back to Hyunsuk, “Oh, I don’t know, you just have to look up, Yujinie, and you’d find one.”
“Huh? What?” and predictably the girl looks up and before she can meet Hyunsuk’s eyes as the two are facing his general direction and he’s somehow transfixed on the spot, he drags his feet and forcibly turns on his heels, his throat constricting because he’s right, he’s right that the guy has judged him so severely for that one single mistake as if that is all he ever is, and will be. It touches on his bouts of insecurity because for some time now he isn’t exactly making a living by acting, he’s only recently gained a huge following after that one viral CF of his for Mom’s Touch chicken burger and side-by-side appearances in Dining Together and Coffee Friends. He’s secured one role in a weekend drama from the past two years and coming off from a recurring, albeit a minor role still, in a morning soap opera in SBS.
He didn’t really aggressively pursue acting until his best friend Yoshi convinced him to see this one play titled Inching Towards Yeolha premiering at Towol Theater in Seoul Arts Center, during their senior year, and from then on, he fell in love with the limelight and the performance art enough to trade his BA Sociology diploma for a ride on hallyu.
Sure, Hyunsuk’s never learned basic skills from any school of drama, but he’s taught himself from crash courses online and YouTube vlogs about acting, and he has a rather wide repository of learning materials in the form of films and TV series to study from. The current agency he’s signed on, only took Hyunsuk under their wing if he can manage to land a role in the first year of his contract so he auditioned, and auditioned, and most of the time didn’t get anything until he’s casted as a part-timer that gets killed off in the first episode of this one MBC procedural show. There were a handful of callbacks that fizzle out too, and he’s often the guy being casted after somebody a company already hired didn’t work out but how dare, how dare Park Jihoon discredit all the hard work he’s put in and relegate him as just someone with a pretty face? Okay, so, not exactly the actor’s words about him, but the inferring of meaning from his earlier statement still applies—although the people that they’re really banking on getting their series views are from their marketable leads Bang and Watanabe, the former, who used to be a child stage actor turned seasoned TV star, and the latter, a sought-after idol-actor from a buzzworthy group—but these two didn’t make a blip during the read-through, that’s all Hyunsuk.
The honk of a car’s horn snaps him out of his disconcertment and it’s just in time when Hyunsuk is walking away from his co-star and the guy’s manager, so relief promptly floods the inside of his chest when he sees Jaeyoung hyung behind the wheel of their old company car. He sits beside his manager in the front seat of the Hatchback, throwing his messenger bag haphazardly into the backseat, and soon the car pulls away from the curb and the two figures standing by the ingress of the building, waiting for their own ride.
“Sorry, you know how hard it is to get this junk of a car to start running. Did you wait long?”
He shakes his head; he can’t speak as something is still lodged at his throat.
“Oh, how was the table read?” his manager jovially asks him as he rejoins traffic once more.
Hyunsuk sniffs, clears his throat, and croaks, “Fine, hyung,” and Jaeyoung hyung’s ears prick at that and when the man tears his eyes away from the road, his small face is a mix of worry and puzzlement, and dammit to hell, Hyunsuk wishes more than anything that he’s a better actor by now but the frustrated tears that burn his eyes and his raspy voice, tell otherwise.
Hyunsuk can admit that he’s always nervous at dress rehearsals and table reads but fine when the cameras are rolling so he feels it entirely unfair that despite their rehearsal earlier that morning, their director still feels the need to do some feeding in in-between takes—a method to free him, as an actor, from the text and to connect with his scene partner by feeding in his lines neutrally, as quietly as they follow them in that small a space of a classroom with a dozen camera and crew surrounding them, until his lines resonate with him while at the same time keeping full attention on Park to remain rooted in their fictional world and the given circumstances of the moment: Hyunsukkie, what is the audience supposed to be seeing in this scene?—you as Ilseong and Yujun have known each other for four years now but never really interacted as friends throughout your high school life—you came to know that he witnessed you getting rejected by his older brother Yunseo—and that Yujun is using that to get a rise out of you, teasing you about your heartbreak and we can all agree that it’s very mean, while at the same time dangling you some bit of hope that he can help you win over Yunseo if you just let him join your broadcast club in the middle of the school year just so he can earn extra credit for the university he’s eyeing to attend. Quid pro quo, right? But what’s holding Ilseong back?
Keep looking at me like that.
Yujun, as ordered, continues looking at Ilseong like he’s scoping him out.
As you wish.
Ilseong sharply inhales a breath.
Bastard! What’s your deal? God, I can’t believe you and Yunseo share the same blood.
Yujun rocks his chair.
Right. I’m not my brother. I’m also not the one who rejected you.
Ilseong threads his fingers over his hair in frustration.
Kazuki told me you’re the one who sent in the—the note, the one with the iced coffee too. I can’t be bribed, you know.
Yujun tilts his head in response.
You just think you can’t, at least not until you’ve heard my proposal in full.
The proposal being?
I know how you can win over hyung. You must like him that much if you confessed to him twice this year alone despite being rejected the first time, and the second time. How about it, Lee Ilseong? Certify me as your club member and I’ll ensure that third time’s the charm happens for you, hmm?
This is the only lengthy dialogue him and Park is sharing in the first four episodes they’re shooting before they resume filming come October in a live-shoot system format while their drama starts airing, and it’s currently taking them eight fucking takes to their kangdongnim’s dissatisfaction. He’d like to storm off the set but that is a privilege only A-list actors get to have and the thing is, Hyunsuk finds his co-star professionally insufferable but he’s just sure that to Park Jihoon, he’s insufferably unprofessional so he can’t give the guy any more ammunition to think he isn’t worthy to be part of this highly anticipated series—not today, not ever.
And in this particular scene they’re shooting over and over doesn’t necessarily boil down to them actors forgetting lines, or missing a mark, or even being incompatible on-screen despite their silent feud but their director wants a certain atmosphere between Hyunsuk and Park, which is why the man is also going to all the trouble of feeding him in earlier.
He thinks to himself that only key scenes in a drama receive such type of detailed treatment and Hyunsuk wonders whether this argument between Ilseong and Yujun will grow into something else—they’re shooting a youth rom-com after all, so he guesses they need that much conflict before things lighten up. And so, he racks his brain to arrive at the answer to their director’s earlier question: what’s holding Ilseong back? Ilseong is in love with Yunseo, Yujun’s older brother, and Yujun is offering him a chance to have Yunseo look back at him and take an interest, Ilseong isn’t afraid of taking chances, Hyunsuk knows this, his character confessed twice and got rejected twice, so what is he afraid of then? He’s the broadcast club’s president, it’s not like it’s hard to falsify a document saying Yujun has always been a part of their club, it’s not really illegal per se, so what is Ilseong scared of?
And then the answer dawns on him as he squints his eyes at Park, crinkling his nose in the process, and he has to still himself from clicking his tongue aloud due to the irksomeness he feels—how could I have been so fucking stupid?—he knows that tension can occur when performers raise their voice but the opposite is also true as tension can also occur with stillness and silence in the drama, so Hyunsuk makes a choice then that he thinks will help him and his co-actor better define their scene, better set up a mood, by sitting himself on the guy’s desk and shoving his face down closer to Park’s, studying, examining all of Park-as-Yujun’s face in complete quietness, holding Yujun’s penetrating stare until the silence becomes highly charged, until it must feel suffocating, for him, for the two of them—it’s me, I fear myself when I’m around you, Yujun.
Park reacts to him invading Yujun’s personal space with a frown and a hard swallow of his throat, his mouth that’s been curled for a half-smile throughout their shoot is now pressed in a line and shut tight, and the guy slowly inches his neck backwards to back away from Hyunsuk-as-Ilseong.
“Cut! That’s a wrap!” is boomed behind Yoon-nim’s monitor.
The scene ends with both of their noses almost touching, one of the cameras angling up to frame them from the waist up.
“Should we,” and he hears himself asking, head swiveling from Park to Director Yoon, “try it again? Maybe go for another take?”
Their director laughs at him, shaking his head as he firmly plants his palms on his hips. “You gave me exactly what I wanted! Acting is reacting, so said the dearly departed Stella Adler, and through you I got a wonderful reaction from Jihoon-ah, so thank you Hyunsukkie. Besides we’ll lose the sense of realism in that shot if we retake it.”
Hyunsuk spies from the corner of his right eye his co-star cracking up a smile that looks insincere as hell and he doesn’t stop himself then from beaming widely and smugly at that.
Monday is brutal for Park Jihoon especially with a call-time as early as six a.m. and he only managed to sleep past three that morning. He and his castmates’ schedules are packed with promotional gigs, cast interviews in news programs, YouTube channels, and radio shows, but more so for him and Bang since he has his own long-running hosting gig in Inkigayo during Sundays and for their main lead, he’s busy filming a Netflix variety show on top of shooting their current drama. Watanabe’s group is currently on hiatus due to the mandatory military service of his hyungdeul and Choi is, well whatever is the guy up to these days? He remembers his sister mentioning in passing that his scene partner does YouTube football vlogs on the side, and is a popular figure in TikTok, but really, as if they can hold all that much as credentials for being treated seriously as an actor in their industry. Jihoon pinches the bridge of his nose, it’s too early in the day for him to be a censorious ass—a busy schedule and sleepless nights don’t go well together, and in his case, brings out the worst in him so he’s in a particular mood when he enters their makeshift set where classroom desks are positioned like the way they are arranged in their set location.
Their series is being aired on tvN, a pay TV which normally has a relatively smaller audience compared to the free-to-air broadcasters such as KBS and SBS but their first four episodes got as high as 11.43% in the ratings nationwide that there’s talk among the staff that the network wants to order additional four episodes for their drama, making it a 20-episode serial, but nothing’s set in stone yet and nobody wants to voice out that they have a hit on their hands for fear of jinxing it. Currently, they are ordered to conduct a short table session due to the script changes in light of the feedback they received from the aired episodes, their writers reworking some kinks in the plot to help hook even more viewers and to give his character and Choi’s more screen time as he’s been notified by both the research and marketing team that fans of the show have been particularly vocal about them in the message boards—one thing that surprised him really, since he only signed on this particular minor role as he expects the work will be light enough and the taping won’t tax him so, considering he’s juggling several jobs at once this year—but who is Jihoon to reject opportunities when they come knocking on his door of their own volition?
He sidles close to his castmates whose scripts are flipped open on their desks and acknowledges his presence with their drowsy faces and voices thick with sleep still, and Jihoon rubs the top of Bang and Watanabe’s heads (the former crying out, do that again hyung? and the latter croaking in his deep-set tone, I spent a good 30 minutes fixing my hair hyung!) before deciding to sit closer to his scene partner since he knows they are bound to work on Yujun and Ilseong’s dynamic and developing relationship. He’s done analyzing their recent script for all of its basics: conflict, objective, given circumstances, relationship, story arc, and significant moments, and if a casual encounter between two side characters contains that many layers of subtext, and keep adding up, what dramatic progress does this mean for their characters Yujun and Ilseong?
Jihoon has a sneaky suspicion and a sinking feeling as to what that is, but he remains tightlipped lest his words come true.
He hooks his feet around the chair legs and struggles to stay awake through the first-half of their read-through, and he notices how Choi carefully scans his script before glancing sideways to check Watanabe’s script and determine whether he’s on the right page, and he knows acutely how he’s the reason for that, for the guy to be alert at all times now.
Then, the strangest thing happens when the guy shoves a coffee cup on his desk and mutters, “To help perk you up.”
He never lets his eyes stray away from the page of the script they’re on while he says a curt, “I don’t drink that bitter taste of death.”
It’s something he definitely did not expect from the guy whom he thinks hates him with a passion after their first table-read where Jihoon made his stance known on Choi’s blunder, especially when the actor openly gapes at him and however brief it was, his eyes shone with resentment then. Him and his co-star didn’t necessarily have any big fight for the subsequent shooting of their first four episodes but it’s like they’re on a Cold War because like how neither the Soviet Union nor the United States officially declared war on each other, him and Choi never did have any verbal sparring. They talk to each other outside of work as little as possible which is extremely funny now (read: sarcastically) when they’re acting in the same scenes, doing run-throughs together, and bumping into each other frequently when they’re trying to be alone on the set.
His scene partner’s eyes size Jihoon up and then Choi says a grim, “suit yourself,” while placing his left hand flat on the surface of his script and starts curling his fingers inwards one by one so that only the middle finger is stretched and extended for him to see.
Jihoon feels his eyes go round at that and to counter it, he completely turns to his fellow actor and makes sure the guy’s seeing how he’s scratching the tip of his nose with his own middle finger too.
Jihoon is leaning on the wall by the edge of the music room watching Bang and Watanabe slip into their roles as Shin Jaehee and Fuse Kazuki. They’re currently talking about how the latter guy can track his absentee father who left his family in Japan to go and live in South Korea, when he only has an old faded photograph to go by of where his father used to stay in Boseok-gu. He smiles at how Bang plays Jaehee, letting physical touches flow as Kazuki shares a very private part of himself, while they are sharing a seat in front of the grand piano. Bang-as-Jaehee’s tallow-like fingers drum the surface of Watanabe’s forearms instead of the piano keys and the guy’s scene partner leans into the touch, his sharp eyes flashing with desire.
In their line of work, their audience can generally read subtle physical signs of genuine attraction between two actors but whether or not it really grabs them depends on their own attraction and relationship histories. The scene they’re all watching unfold is particularly moving and everyone present on the set is enthralled at what their main leads are showing off—Jihoon muses whether there’s something genuine there especially when Bang’s eyes glazed over in response to Watanabe’s mouth parting open in invitation.
Jihoon tries to find his own scene partner in the room and he sees Choi remaining seated at his desk by the corner where he declares he’ll remain rooted until they are required to work on the next classroom scene. The guy is writing fiercely on the prop exercise books and notebooks littering his table and so, to pass his own time, he walks over to his co-star’s side and snatches his script without asking for his permission to see it.
“Ya,” Choi faintly screeches, careful for his voice not to be picked up by the lav mics.
Jihoon scans the guy’s scribbled notes on his script and surmises he’s writing himself little cues to say what happened in context to the scene they’re about to shoot since they’re not shooting in sequence, some minutes of the taping, and stuff their kangdongnim or head scriptwriter has said:
make choices, even in reading, that sketch out the scene moment by moment
silence between characters has weight
meaningful pauses in a reading can be valuable, frequent pauses, unless they are essential for the tone or content of the script, can be damaging
an actor must be prepared to make choices quickly and efficiently
And then there are even statements Jihoon has said, scrawled on the page, but ones he never remembered saying to Choi:
acting is so fun because we get to break our own rules
putting every bit of our effort into it, the work has to stand
don’t you think that as actors we think more with our hearts than our heads?
His grip on the guy’s script tightens as he remembers his co-actor reciting the lines from their script and yet, he’s not only reading his line but every single one of the characters in their drama, as if thinking that’s good practice to recall correctly his place in the story. Jihoon also witnessed Choi one time by the emergency exit stairs repeating, line by line, phrase by phrase, every piece of his dialogue in every conceivable way, keeping at it doggedly, because he’s been scolded one time on how he keeps stumbling over his words as if he’s not a native Korean. He also knows by word of mouth from their staff how the guy is the first to arrive on the set and the last to leave, asking their crew, from the best boy down to their sound mixers, about their own trades to gain overall understanding of how filming works.
Jihoon has to admit it, he has to, but even though Choi Hyunsuk is practically still a newbie to the TV industry, he makes up for it with maximum tenacity. The guy grabs back his script, looking up at Jihoon with clenched jaw and face reddening in embarrassment. Their director calls for their attention and just then, he loses the chance to say he’s sorry, he’s sorry for everything.
The cast usually only have an hour or two of break in between shooting while the crew deal with problems inadvertently finding themselves on the set: not enough extras, other actors arriving late, the cool temperature that autumn brings create condensation on their camera lenses, and they spend it at times relaxing in the classroom, with Bang and Choi exchanging notes and eyes darting everywhere before they throw their little missives on each other’s desks, as if some imaginary authoritative figure is out to catch them and scold them for their activity. He, on the other hand, spends their free time trading paper planes with Watanabe and set on letting them fly into every corner of the room. In short, they act like kids left in daycare when there’s no adult supervision around, namely their director and head screenwriter.
After some time, they collectively hear a series of knocks on the door and Jihoon, who’s poised to grab the paper plane that landed on top of his script, raises his eyes to see a guy leaning by the door. He doesn’t look like he’s part of the staff and their groundcrew so he must have sneaked in during the lull in the taping. And when the tall stranger’s mouth curves into a smile and tentatively waves to someone inside, he belatedly recognizes the guy under a black cap and heavy outerwear to be Kim Seunghun, one of their nation’s popular soloists.
Choi is already out of his chair and halfway around the table when he follows the singer’s line of sight being directed to his scene partner.
“Ya! Seunghun hyung! What are you doing here?” his co-star shouts, all loud and lively. He practically sprints to Kim, barrels his short stature into the guy’s chest and burrows his little head there in pure, absolute delight.
The singer chuckles, “I wanted to surprise you! I got selected to sing one of your drama’s OSTs.”
The guy grasps Choi’s shoulders to hold him in place, face bearing down oh so close to his scene partner. “Seriously. You know I’d never joke about that. How else will I be able to visit your set as one of my perks singing a song for you guys?” Then Kim faintly whispers to his co-actor’s ear but is still loud enough for them to catch, “Now go and introduce me to Bang and Watanabe. I’m a big fan.”
His castmate giggles at that and he turns back to the people inside the room to plead for his case complete with joining his hands together as if in prayer, “Uh, guys, there’s someone I’d like you all to meet?”
Bang walks towards the two standing by the door, stringing along Watanabe and pulling him by the hand, and Jihoon points his nose down to his own script, adjusting the rim of his glasses with his middle finger and pretends to focus on the words swimming before his eyes while playing deaf to the animated chatter filling up the classroom.
One thing Jihoon can appreciate in their kangdongnim is that he doesn’t interrupt the actors at all, where most stop them every couple of lines or even mid-line to offer an idea or adjustment: a note about their pitch, a stress in a phrase, which results in jolting them out of their characters’ headspaces and out of the scenes they’re rehearsing, or worse, already shooting. Their director lets them act first, and only after the scene is done will he share his own input and feedback, letting the natural course of acting run through and flow longer, giving each of the cast agency and letting them discover moments themselves.
But now he’s just opening his mouth to deliver his line when he’s cut off by Yoon-nim, shouting from his chair behind the video village, an area of the set where a series of monitors are hooked up to the camera so that the key film crew can view what is being captured on film from a distance. The man’s shoulders are raised and almost touching his ears, “Sorry! Sorry, I can already tell how this take is gonna go with the way you look at Hyunsukkie.”
Their director then runs up to him and Choi standing along the hallway and tells them with arms folded over each other and lower lip protruding, “You Jihoonie and Hyunsuk-ah set the tone for the rest of the cast here, you guys are supporting actors so I expect for you two to listen to each other and adjust your preconceived or previously rehearsed choices to whatever is going on moment to moment during takes. Right now, you both are a little stiff and that’s weird considering Yujun and Ilseong are on friendly terms in this scene.” Their kangdongnim sweeps his eyes from Jihoon to his co-star and he ponders as he links his fingers together, putting it high above his face and before the jut of his chin, “Why don’t we loosen up and pass some energy back and forth, hmm?”
He furrows his brows at that, “You mean we’re going off-script?”
Director Yoon gives them a nod.
“Just say whatever?” adds Choi for clarification.
The man bobs his head in a series of affirmations. “Sure, talk it out, have a good talk about anything. Remember, you two are not arguing in this scene, you are bantering. And on the dailies, your characters are undefined and I can’t have a flat scene between you two especially since you both are sharing a moment, right? I want the spontaneity of a real-life between Yujun and Ilseong!” Their kangdongnim even lifts his pointer fingers high and wag them as if in warning, then he curves his palms in the air to gesture to them that the floor is open and theirs for the taking.
Jihoon rubs the back of his neck while he eyes his castmate who makes a sudden turn from the door leading to their classroom to walk towards the rows of windows on the other side of the corridor. He knows how actors are trained to open themselves up to instant intimacy with strangers, with their co-stars, taking highly personal aspects of themselves such as their secrets, their desires, their fears, and planting those seeds in the characters they are playing, trying to let them bloom in heightened connection with their scene partners who are attempting the same process in relation to them—it makes for artificial attraction or on-screen connection—but he’s learned that Choi Hyunsuk is untrained in dramaturgy so he wonders what the guy’s method in creating chemistry with him.
Choi-as-Ilseong gazes outside the window where raindrops hit and slide down the glass, then the guy pivots his neck to look over his shoulder to stare back at him, at Yujun, to comment, “Why is it that rain is so romantic?”
He snorts at once and crosses his arms over his chest. “Why? More like how, how is it romantic when you get soaked through despite having an umbrella?” He slants his head after, adding, “and wearing a raincoat and rainboots pretty much hassles you when you need to do an errand outside because you’re still wet, everything you touch gets wet, and it’s particularly sick when your socks get wet and they squelch inside your sneakers?” And Jihoon shudders at the thought of it.
An amused look ripples on Choi’s features and he can very well tell in that instant that the guy is picturing the appearance of a very irate and very wet Park Jihoon inside his head and he scoffs when the mental image draws out a sudden loud laughter from his scene partner.
“I get it,” the guy taps at his chest, “I get how rain inconveniences everything, and if it’s a really hard downpour then there may be some places that get flooded but, and I’m sorry to those people that have a hard time whenever it rains, I truly am, but I love it.” His co-star fully turns to him now, stretching his legs which makes him look like he’s rocking on the balls of his feet, bouncing on his toes, making him appear like a kid on his birthday party, “I love watching the raindrops fall and hit the translucent umbrella and how rivulets of water are created down its curve, and on the asphalts, the roads, the canals!” Jihoon puffs a breath, eyes rolling to the side as he begins envisioning what Choi is telling him, and the guy pushes on to say, voice rising and rising in enthusiasm and in agitation, “How the rain kisses the leaves of the trees, the petals of budding flowers, the cheeks of children playing in the rain, and sure, it can be very annoying to get wet when you’re all dressed up but it’s so funny too!” The guy says that with a peal of laughter ready to burst out of his lips, the sound arresting Jihoon, making him focus back on his co-star’s face, “It’s funny how you get wet down to your undies when you’re all suit up, or in your runway-best, it’s like someone’s out to humble you down. And right, you get cold—”
Jihoon vehemently shakes his head and raises an accusatory finger Choi’s way, “Don’t! Don’t you mention it! Don’t even think it! Don’t start with the cold outside that seep down to your bones, and the dreariness of the scenery wherever you look.” Jihoon snatches his arm back and now places both of his hands deep inside his pants pockets, glancing down at his feet he murmurs, “Rain washes out all the colors of your surroundings and everything just looks so sad, so miserable, like thanks,” and then he lifts his head to grimace, looming closer to guy with one-foot forwards, “as if I needed any more reason to get depressed for today.”
“But that’s just it!” Hyunsuk flails his hands wide, stomps one foot, and puffs out his cheeks, “You get to turn that around by warming yourself up, it’s so good to warm yourself over a hot cup of coffee, or tea, or choco, curl yourself into a ball of blankets and duvets, and wiggle your toes to get a feeling on them? And the sound, the lull! Don’t you think how the rain sounds like a lullaby? It gets your eyelids really heavy,” he drawls while his hands now make pinching motions near his eyes, “and what a rest you’ll have with the falling rain as your music.”
Jihoon mulls it over, pictures it too, and he finds himself commenting, “I haven’t had a good rest in a while.”
“Right?” Choi says, inclining his head to the left and his bangs fall over to hide his twinkling eyes, “Have I swayed you then?”
He huffs, straightening now on his feet. “If swaying me means I think rain will help me have a good rest and therefore that’s romantic?” he rolls his shoulders in a half-shrug, “doesn’t add up Ilseongie.”
His co-star closes in their distance to place his small hands on his elbows to grab and to squeeze them firmly, “You’ll find it really romantic then Yujun-ah if you spend a rainy day with the one you like,” and he wiggles his brows suggestively, mouth sinking upwards for a smirk.
And he doesn’t know if his immediate reaction to that teasing is all Yujun’s or all him, all Park Jihoon, when he flicks the guy’s nose in retaliation.
“Owww,” the guy whines, cupping and rubbing his nose before he shouts, “Ya!” Then his whole face turns serene with a small smile tugging at his lips, “I think I nearly have you persuaded.”
Jihoon has to grit his teeth, stopping himself short from confirming to the guy that he very nearly convinced him.
Choi Hyunsuk uses his whole body to play a scene, on top of a face that is very expressive. He does things that are so weirdly, uniquely, lovely to look at too, actions a scriptwriter can’t possibly have conceived—he breathes life into his character Lee Ilseong, like Choi Hyunsuk is life itself—and he thinks that’s the guy’s own acting method: keeping it natural and real, in a world of pretense.
Yoon-nim claps his hands together and notes, “There! That’s it. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Please maintain that vibe guys as we roll for scene 466 again.” He calls for their head scriptwriter next, “Somi-ya, do you think we can somehow add their improv to the script?”
Their dramatist’s head pops to the side of the monitor. “Are you nuts? They can’t have a convo about the weather as if they’re making small talk, their bond is far beyond small talks now and there’s continuity to consider, Ilseong and Yujun are having a banter over trading ideas for the broadcast club’s next big event.”
Their kangdongnim only rubs his chin, deliberating before he barks a fine and strides back to the monitor and his seat to start their shooting once more.
Jihoon is scrolling through Instagram, liking stuff randomly about dogs and the autumn foliage in Seoraksan National Park, and then clicking over to Twitter to respond to fan posts and questions, contemplating all the while if he should post a status himself when he hears voices outside of his dressing room.
“No, but tell me honestly, how were the cookies?” that’s his manager’s distinct female bubbly voice.
“Honestly?” responds some guy, a little hesitant, and that guy being his scene partner Jihoon makes out due to the unmistakable sound of Choi’s nasally husky voice. “They’re a little bit salty.” He can just imagine the guy’s eyes darting to everywhere while making that confession.
Yujin hisses, “I knew it! What does a pinch of salt really mean? I should’ve asked for oppa’s help in making them.”
His co-actor hurriedly placates his sister by assuring her that the cookies were edible and taste great despite being a really, really, really, tad bit salty, and that he’s finished the box in one seating while he’s memorizing his lines. They exchange a few more pleasantries before his manager lets his co-star go, promising to send him a box of brownies next in exchange for his help earlier, to which the guy says she didn’t need to do but if she wants any more review of her baking escapades, that he’ll gladly do.
He hears his manager come inside and Jihoon tries to make himself look busy and look bored while typing a cursory Twitter post about the selcas he took for the day. The girl goes straight to the vanity to place a bouquet of wildflowers in a vase and states, “You’re doing that thing you know, the one where you’re biting on your lower lip trying to crush your urge from voicing your thoughts out loud. The curiosity must be killing you, huh, oppa?” She plasters on a teasing smile on her pretty face.
Park Yujin keeps Jihoon’s life in order, his baby sister, and it feels like it’s at the expense of living her own life so she has every right, and in the right too, to call him out on his bullshit. “I know you heard me talking with Hyunsuk oppa just now and it’s sus when you’re not interrogating me the minute I come inside when you aren’t like this when I’m around other guys.”
“You’re calling him oppa now?”
She ignores the jibe and his futile attempt to steer their conversation in another route. Yujin hops to the couch where he’s currently sprawled and hits his left leg, “What is it with you and Hyunsuk oppa?”
Jihoon puts his phone down on his chest and laces his fingers together, resting them too on top of his chest. “Nothing,” he answers, “nothing’s between us.”
“Oh, there must be something. It’s weird that you guys don’t interact all that much on the set and off it when you’re scene partners.” So, she’s noticed it too. “And when you do interact, you always leave the guy red in the face, and looking like he’s on the verge of tears.”
He scoffs at that. “We don’t have to be friends to make our scenes work.” Although if Jihoon truly puts some thought in his words, he’ll be forced to admit that their shared scenes don’t work all the time, that’s why they have to do countless of takes just to satisfy their director’s visual expectations. “Why are you friendly with him?”
Yujin tucks a lock of her hair behind her ear then, “He’s a great guy. You know how I sent everyone on the set a box of cookies I baked myself to congratulate everyone for their hard work and to celebrate your drama’s current success?” His sister fixes him a look, “He’s the only who left me a note of thank you in return and that bouquet,” she says, her dainty pointer finger rising to aim at the flowers displayed on his vanity. And then she titters and hits his leg again, “And relax, I’m not fighting with you over him. I like my guys way taller than me.”
Jihoon splutters, “What—”
His sister’s eyes bore into him. “It looks like, and feels like, you’re having a schoolboy crush on him or something. You’re having way too much fun bullying him.”
“Bullying?” he echoes, aghast. “Yujinie, we don’t use that word, much less condone any form of it. And I’m not doing that,” Jihoon swipes away her hand placed on his leg as he stretches himself on the long couch, searching for the right words then, “I’m just, you know, I’d like to keep him in place,” he rethinks his words when his sister’s eyebrows shoot up high under the curtain of her bangs and then he cringes, “Look, I’m showing him the ropes of how harsh this industry can be so he can develop a thick skin later on. Nobody stays starry-eyed in a show business.”
The girl leans back on the couch, trapping his feet in the process. “Oppa,” she admonishes. “You can’t apply abeoji’s teachings, his punitive school of thought when it comes to the TV industry to anybody else. It didn’t do you any favors in the long run, and it certainly won’t serve Hyunsuk oppa any good now. And don’t you think that’s his charm? Remaining bright and hopeful? We don’t have to turn everyone else into a cynic just like us.”
Jihoon’s chest rises and falls in rapid breaths that he can see clearly how his fingers and phone move up and down in his line of sight while looking up at his baby sister who’s so wise beyond her years. His big break as an actor came when he was just in middle school when he earned a name for himself as the dumb but lovable youngest son in the long-running and highly successful family sitcom in SoKor. After that, he was seemingly never out of work: there were a couple of CFs he’s shot, he’s learned to host music shows, and landed minor roles in both TV series and movies year after year—he’s never been out of it, the limelight, and their appa, who used to be a beloved actor in the 70s and 80s, made sure he remains in the public eye and their attention spans that keep shortening year after year too.
“Are you happy being my manager Yujinie?” he asks abruptly, because Jihoon knows there are only now a handful of things he can say that makes him happy about living a life as a television personality.
His sister surveys his face for some time, and just when Jihoon thinks she’d go all soft on him, the girl sneers, “See, that’s your problem oppa! You think the entire earth revolves around you. I’m happy being your manager-slash-assistant, I have extra hours I can spend thinking up businesses to start running. I’m fine,” this time she gently taps his left leg, “you don’t have to worry about me all the time.”
Jihoon lifts his right hand then, voice commanding when he cries, “So go, meet a cute boy! You have my full blessing.”
The girl pinches his leg next, “Thanks, I don’t need that blessing, and I am!” she murmurs, turning a little crimson in the process, “meeting one cute boy,” and then trails off.
“Just don’t let me see him,” Jihoon sniffs, giving his sister a dirty look.
She takes it and openly laughs to his face. “You already saw him, you just didn’t know it then!”
He hurls his body forwards to shout now, “Ya, Yujin-ah!” and his phone placed on top of his chest falls down towards the tiled flooring.
Jihoon leaves the studio late that night after doing a dozen takes for his ADR, saying his lines over and over he thinks he sounds hoarse by the end of it, recreating his performance on set for the soundtech guys as they were unable to record clean audio in the noisy environment of a gymnasium filled with a hundred extras or so. He heads toward the parking lot, passing by designers and carpenters currently building a set there and he bows to them, politely bidding them goodbye in a way that’s practiced, like muscle memory. There’s no one around whom he knows, and he expects all of the cast have gone home by now, especially their leads who only had minimal scenes this afternoon. He walks past trailers and food trucks, with one particularly eye-catching congratulatory wreath that says, a well-fed crew helps a production run smoother, complete with Yedam’s meme-worthy pictures of eating, sent in by the guy’s good friend, actor-model Kim Junkyu.
He checks his phone first before getting inside his car, left thumb navigating the touchscreen surface and finding no new messages aside from Yujin reminding him to keep safe on the road and their mom’s last text asking Jihoon when his schedule will free up. He climbs inside his Kia Carnival, starts the car’s engine, and proceeds to back out of the parking lot.
There’s a silver Hyundai Accent parked just off the main road with its hood popped open. He knows the make and the model of the beat-up old car and it looks like it had broken down a thousand times since he last saw it spring of this year. As Jihoon slowly approaches it, he sees the wavy locks and the stature of his scene partner leaning against the car, talking on his phone while his manager is busy looking down the engine compartment. Choi straightens on his feet when he sees his car coming towards their side of the road and Jihoon thinks they make eye contact through the glass even though the guy’s eyes are squinting due to the headlights, and the tint of his car is so dark, and it’s dark outside too.
He didn’t know what force gripped him then but he steers his car to the edge of the road, just before the Accent and puts his own in neutral. He rolls the driver’s window down next and pushes his head and elbow out of it and Jihoon starts eyeballing his co-star up and down. Choi’s mouth twists as he ends his phone call with a press of his thumb over the screen.
“Are you guys having a problem with your car?”
Choi Hyunsuk remains mum, preferring to pout his mouth as he scrubs the toe of his sneakers along the asphalt road, like his question isn’t directed to his co-actor. He’s good at feigning innocence he’ll give him that. Jihoon hears the hood of the car being closed and perceives the manager circling around the front of the car to declare, “Our car passed away just now. Time of death is 10:57. May it rest in peace and reach car heaven wherever that is.”
Choi sighs exasperatedly but he sends his manager a look that is all fond and something in Jihoon’s chest coils and twines at that. The guy’s manager raises both of his brows and it forces his talent to mumble, “We’re getting it towed.”
Jihoon eases his foot off the gas, “How long until the wrecker gets here?”
“Any day now,” quips Choi’s manager.
“Possibly a year?” adds his co-actor with a giggle.
The two of them share a laugh and Jihoon tugs at his right earlobe, suspending the feeling of being left out, out of a good-humored conversation. The manager glances back at him and propels his right arm forwards, “Sorry, it’s— we’ve been waiting for over four hours now.”
Jihoon only shakes his head to let the man know he didn’t need any context to their inside-joke and then he surprises himself when he blurts out of left-field, “I can give you guys a lift?” and then he lets his words trail on its own in the still night air.
The manager visibly perks up while Choi appears troubled, as if he isn’t offering assistance in the first place.
“If it’s not out of your way?” The manager jerks his thumb backwards, “We’re headed to Seongbuk-dong, well, the outskirts of it,” and his scene partner squirms on his feet and elbows the side of the man, who elbows his talent in return.
“Not at all,” Jihoon says with a smile that’s all teeth. The place is way out of his destination to his house in Seongnam, the two hours kind, so he isn’t sure with himself why he’s obstinately spewing this shit, “I’m a good driver, I never let my manager do the driving for me, and that’s because she doesn’t have any license, which is beside the point.” He propped his chin on his elbow and tilts his head in his best angle, “Well, do you guys want a ride?”
Choi’s manager considers for a moment, brushing his palms together before he turns to his talent, “I have to stay here, but you get in Hyunsukkie, early call time tomorrow and all. You need your beauty rest.”
“Hyung!” the actor pulls a face, swaying on his feet with his little hands squeezing into fists, “I can manage a ride home, in fact, I can book an Uber right about now.”
The manager rests a hand on his right hip and sighs. “The demand far outstrips the supply this time of night, especially a Friday night. We’ve been trying to catch taxis and even ride-hailing apps failed us. Just get in Park-ssi’s car, please?”
“Yeah, get inside Choi Hyunsuk-ssi,” Jihoon insists, his voice sounding like a taunt.
Choi shoves a hand through his hair, messing the style even more and he opens his mouth then to argue but closed it at once when he sees the tight line of his manager’s lips. So, his co-star jams his hands in the front pocket of his hoodie jacket, lips now pursed, and finally makes a beeline for the backseat of his car. Jihoon cries out then, “Hey, hey, take the shotgun seat I’m not a chauffeur!”
The guy rolls his eyes and yet, in the end, he opens the front passenger door, slides into the seat beside him and buckles in.
“Type your address there,” he instructs his co-passenger, pointing to the built-in SatNav which lights up as soon as he turns the key and puts his car in gear. He focuses then on maneuvering his Kia into reverse, going out onto the road once more, and following the planned route on the monitor.
Choi pitches his upper body forward to stare out of the opened window of the driver’s seat and to wave goodbye at his manager as they pull away, “Get home safe, hyung.”
The man tips a nod their way and orders, “Drive safely, okay? Watch out for slick spots.”
“Will do,” answers Jihoon in earnest.
The silence stretches between them then and Choi busies himself watching the lights of the city pass him by, the pattern of white and blue lights filtering inside the car swirl over the guy’s pretty features and Jihoon would have let the silence continue stretching on for the whole drive until he brings the car to a stop at an intersection. He stares straight ahead, both hands gripping the steering wheel as he states something he has no business in saying, “I think we need to address the elephant in the room.”
“In the car,” the guy quickly retorts.
Jihoon feels the corner of his mouth quirk up, “I understand we got off on the wrong foot.”
“That’s putting it mildly, you’ve been sharp with me,” mocks Choi.
“I know,” he groans, “I know I hold the most blame but neither one of us talked to the other and work suffers for it. I’m sorry for being a dick to you. What I said during our first table-read was uncalled for and I guess, I just really hate it when I think people come to work unprepared, but that isn’t an excuse for me to be downright nasty to you too.” He hears the guy audibly clearing his throat in his seat, but otherwise keeps quiet so he twists on his own seat to gaze at his co-passenger, “What?”
“Figures I’d be getting an apology because we have to be civil with each other, not because you wanted to.”
“Huh? That isn’t—” he starts shaking his head.
Choi stops him with a raised palm, his lips compressing into a thin tense line. “Hey, I get it. Apology accepted, okay?”
Jihoon feels his face contorting, “Are you saying I’m insincere?”
The guy scrunches his face too, “No, not—”
He looks ahead, concentrating on the traffic once more as the light turns green then. “And that doesn’t sound like you’ve forgiven me.”
“Do I have to?” Choi blows out a breath. “Look, I don’t think you’re being dishonest, in a way you’re just showing your real side to me, that you just can’t help being yourself, maybe full offense but I think you’re that kind of guy.”
“What kind?” he dares a glance over at his co-star.
“One that’s committed and married to your job that you’re obtuse in everything else.”
“You have me pegged by that?” he blurts, easing his car into the flow of traffic, and calculating whether staying in the right lane will allow for a left turn by the exit.
“The way you have me pegged that first table-read day, wow, it works both ways you know?” he says, sounding whiny and snappish, “Besides, you can only prove me wrong, right? And I think it’s really shitty of you to do that but in a way, I got motivated to do better so there’s that, a silver lining.”
“You just got to look on the brighter side of things, huh,” he intends for the words to come out acerbically but they roll of his tongue in wonderment.
“Well, someone has to,” Choi sighs, his voice now sounds warm and wistful to Jihoon’s ears.
They fall into another spell of silence after, the first that isn’t fraught with tension, (not really despite their terse words because he can see a grin on Choi’s mouth and he feels another smile being teased out of his lips too) the first that feels comfortable, hopefully it isn’t the last.
Jihoon parks his Kia along a neighborhood full of hanok, their traditional tile-roofed residences consisting of columns and purlins. Choi clicks his seat belt and reaches for the door, pushing it open until he freezes on the spot and rears his body back to turn to him, “Thanks for the ride, I really do appreciate it.”
He leans his left cheek on the steering wheel and faces his co-actor, “Thanks for letting me give you a ride.”
The guy wrinkles his nose and seizes his messenger bag, stepping out of the car with a blush dusting his cheeks, and just as he’s watching his co-star walk into the safety of his home, Choi spins on his feet and strides back to where he’s still parked. He knocks on the window of the passenger door and Jihoon pushes the button to roll it down. “There’s a convenience store nearby,” he’s telling him, “do you wanna grab some beer before calling it a night?”
He swipes his tongue over his lips, a drink sounds about nice at this time of night but he’s driving so he can’t readily accept the guy’s invitation. “Can’t tonight,” and he taps the wheel he’s slumped over, for emphasis.
“Right,” Choi drawls, wincing, “you’re the one who drove us all the way here. Guess, I’ll see you tomorrow?” and then he turns his face side-to-side, “Ugh, what am I saying, of course we’ll see each other, we’re workmates!” He puffs out his cheeks before composing himself and murmuring in banmal, “Good night, Jihoon-ah?”
He permits the sudden casual talking, no matter how it’s an obvious slip-up when a flush creeps up on the guy’s panicking face. “Goodnight, Hyunsukkie, and oh, ask me again when it rains.”
“Huh,” and the guy blinks, and blinks, delicately says “oh” when he finally understands Jihoon’s meaning, and then repeats it in a voice that’s a little short of breath, “oh.”
Jihoon tries to erase the image of Choi Hyunsuk’s eyes softening, appearing like crescent moons, as he turns on the ignition and shifts gears moving forward—he tries really, really hard, but the guy’s afterimage persists.