“Yeongguk, are you trembling…?”
Song Jeongseok asks in a low voice.
Thinking back to the Song Jeongseok of my past life, I couldn’t help but laugh, but now it was inevitable.
He had lived his entire life as a minor character.
It was his first time to receive so many spotlights, let alone walking on a red carpet.
On top of that, all the journalists’ attention was focused on us since we had arrived in a small cargo truck, making him even more nervous.
“Yes, I’m extremely nervous.
Are you okay, Taeseop-hyung?”
It was a pointless question, considering how his throat trembled.
After all, what difference would there be for Choi Taeseop? He was just a young man who recently graduated from college.
His eyes had been shaking ever so slightly since he set foot on the red carpet, and now he seemed to be on the verge of convulsion.
As they moved on to the photo line, the trembling intensified.
“Could you briefly tell us about your indie film, To Jiwhan?”
“Jang Yeongguk, we know this is your first leading role in a film.
What are the differences between this and the dramas you’ve appeared in?”
“We imagine you must have faced many difficulties while preparing for this indie film.
How does it feel to have it selected as the opening film for the Busan International Film Festival?”
Faced with countless questions from journalists, the two actors’ faces turned pale as if they were about to faint.
“Is there anyone who can answer?”
At this point, I had no choice but to step up.
“Everyone seems a bit seasick from the long car ride.
Isn’t that right, hyungs?”
“Alright! In place of our director, I’ll answer! To Jiwhan is like a portrait of our childhood! If the name of a friend that has a place in your memories comes to mind, the film will leave a deep impression!”
“Then, could you express To Jiwhan in one sentence for those watching on TV right now?”
This guy was persistent.
Song Jeongseok and Choi Taeseop were at a loss for words.
Just because someone is an actor or director doesn’t mean they are good at speaking in public.
National MCs don’t start out being good at hosting events.
The more experience and cunning they become, the more their wit improves.
Just like me now.
“My friend! I miss you―!”
Unlike the playful photo line, the opening film screening began with a solemn atmosphere.
Not only filmmakers from all over the world but also many ordinary people were in attendance.
Unusually for an indie film, it was even translated into English with subtitles.
My heart was pounding.
Seeing your first work on the big screen was like experiencing the birth of life.
It was the same for Choi Taeseop and Song Jeongseok.
They had left behind the tension of the photo line, and now they were focused on the film.
What thoughts crossed their minds as they watched the film they directed and starred in?
“- Ajeossi, why is my friend still fourteen?”
With the protagonist’s monologue at the end, the film ended.
Being a director’s cut, it had a longer running time for an indie film, but no one left their seats.
At that moment, no one could find words in the darkness of the screen.
As if a calm ripple turned into a huge wave, the audience began to rise from their seats one by one, giving a standing ovation with claps following someone’s lead.
Choi Taeseop was overcome with emotion, and his shoulders shook.
Song Jeongseok was no different.
They received applause from filmmakers all around the world.
The excitement of that day would surely never be forgotten until the day they left this world.
It would become the cornerstone of the films they would face in the future and a reminder of their original intentions.
That’s when it happened.
Why did it feel so stinging?
The back of my head was tingling.
Just as I was about to turn my head, an old man sitting at the judges’ table was staring daggers at me.
As I met his gaze, my body froze.
It was as if time had stopped.
* * *
Baekho (White Tiger).
With his fluttering gray hair, white eyebrows, and majestic appearance, the image of a white-haired tiger naturally comes to mind.
I didn’t know how I ended up here.
It was definitely after the screening of the opening film had ended.
A staff member of the festival hurriedly found me and led me somewhere.
Someone wanted to talk to me, they said.
“Master Baek Janghun?”
“Do you know me?”
How could I not know him! In my past life, he was the master I had always longed for.
To exaggerate, this man would be the idol of the majority of South Korean filmmakers.
“When you have watched films for a long time, like me, you can easily see the director’s values and ideas.
Indie films often have more distinct colors than commercial films, so general audiences tend to be wary of them.
It was the same with To Jiwhan, but your acting helped ease that.”
“I heard you’ve never learned acting even once.
Is that true?”
“Then, how could you captivate the audience beyond the screen? Especially in the last scene where you seemed to scream and swallow it inside.
It was shocking, like seeing a wave crashing on the coast without any sound.
I thought to myself, is this really a child actor’s performance? Is there someone else inside?”
He’s not a master for nothing.
His keen eyes are this sharp.
But at times like this, you must not panic and instead wear a shallow smile on your face, just like a child who is happy to be praised.
Besides, I couldn’t confess that a middle-aged actor was inside me.
“I’m grateful that you think so highly of me.
It’s all thanks to the directors who taught me how to act well.
Master, please feel free to speak your mind.”
“With such humility at a young age, you really have much to learn and see in this world.
I never thought I’d meet a child actor like you.
Then, can I ask you something friendly, as if I’m talking to my grandson?”
Baek Janghun’s white eyebrows curved strangely.
“Are you interested in studying film acting with this old man?”
“In a little while, it’ll be vacation time.
How about studying movies in general with me in Seoul? After all, if you’re going to pursue acting as a profession, hands-on experience is desperately needed.
It would be great to study while making cameo appearances, and I think it would be a mutually beneficial time for us to share various things and exchange opinions.”
“It is an honor just to hear you say that.
But I don’t have a place to stay in Seoul, so it might be a bit difficult.”
“Why don’t you like staying at my house?”
Heavens, just as Baek Janghun said, it’s really something you’d see if you lived long enough.
I never thought I’d be able to learn movie acting with a master.
And that too, under Baek Janghun, who is called the godfather of the Korean film industry.
If it had been my past life, I would have gone under his tutelage, even if it meant working day and night.
“Then, I have a condition too.”
This life is different.
Although it’s only during the winter break, I won’t be able to help my mother.
So, it had to be valuable enough for me.
There’s a saying about an equivalent exchange.
Since Baek Janghun considered me like his grandson, I should also act like a grandchild and try to bargain at least once.
“Please let me appear as the main character, not just a cameo, in your future work.”
After the boy left, Baek Janghun’s wrinkled eyes held a gun.
Until now, he has filmed numerous works.
He had experienced many hardships in the film industry, enough to be called a veteran.
He had laid the foundation for the film industry ruined by the war.
All his friends who started making movies with him had left the world or the film industry.
Didn’t they say that position makes a person? Once he began to be called a master, no one could stand up to him.
Except for the boy he met today.
A knock on the door woke him from his thoughts at that moment.
“Sir, there will be a meeting with the judges soon.”
“Is it time already?”
Baek Janghun glanced at his watch.
It had been thirty minutes since the boy left.
His wrinkled eyes scanned the empty spot.
The child who might become his persona, which he had long sought, had definitely been sitting there.
* * *
Even the ice from the ice-shaving machine seemed unnecessary as the severe winter cold arrived.
Thanks to the attention from the district office, even makeshift tents and windbreaks were set up above the fish stalls at Namhang Market, and warmth from coal briquette stoves filled the market.
“Son of Namhang, Yeongguk!”
Even the store name was fancy.
Fortunately, my mother obtained a small store in Namhang Market.
It was thanks to the promised down payment from CEO Kim Seonghwan and the help of neighboring merchants.
Everyone helped my mother find a store as if it was their own business.
No jealousy or envy could be found.
Instead, more people were grateful that the market was crowded every day because of her son.
“Yeongguk, when you go to Seoul, you must do well.
Don’t accept anything from strangers, alright?”
“Ah, don’t worry about Yeongguk so much, mother! Yeongguk is smarter than our Seok, who went to the army! He’ll do just fine on his own!”
“That’s right! It’s as if he’s going to the army! He’s just going up there for the winter break! I’m worried that Yeongguk might become a great actor, and then he won’t recognize me!”
“Of course not! If he doesn’t recognize the ajummas of Yeongdo, he’s not even human!”
My mother’s store sometimes became a hangout for the ajummas and a place for tourists who came to buy fish to look.
Thanks to our unique entrance at the film festival, it became widely known.
As To Jihwan was exceptionally screened in theaters nationwide, the number of people visiting Namhang increased daily.
“Mom, should I help you?”
I can do it by myself now!”
It wasn’t a lie.
My mother was now skilled not only in business but also in handling fish.
With so many good people around her, I felt a little relieved.
At that moment, the warm sunlight penetrated the winter wind and shone down.
I looked up at the sun.
A flock of migratory birds crossing the sky signaled the approaching winter.
* * *
A columbarium is a place where one lives with longing.
After holding on to the shadow of the departed and shedding a torrent of tears, all that remains is a small box containing a handful of ashes.
In a place where numerous emotions intersect, Choi Taeseop knelt down and looked at his friend.
When they were young, the columbarium that was clearly visible in front of his eyes was now only barely within reach when he bent his knees.
Last fall, things were really busy.
After an indie film was screened at the Busan International Film Festival, To Jihwan was shown nationwide.
“Do you remember when we first met at the hospital? I was crying because I didn’t want to get a shot, and you gave me some snacks, saying that a boy shouldn’t cry over something like that.
Back then, I thought you were older than me.
And when we played marbles on the hospital rooftop, you let me win a lot.
You thought I didn’t know you did that because I was a crybaby?”
Choi Taeseop was reciting memories to his long-time friend.
“When I said I wanted to write movie scripts when I grow up, you said, ‘Let’s go see your movie together when it’s released.'”
Although it was a monologue echoing in the void, his friend was undoubtedly listening.
His friend, who had become eternally fourteen years old with the passage of time.
Choi Taeseop, sitting in front of his friend, kept talking.
He proudly showed him something.
It was the award he received at the Busan International Film Festival.
“Can you see this? I borrowed your name a little.
If you have any complaints, come and talk to me directly.
I’ll pay you back with interest.
So at least visit me in my dreams, man.”
Choi Taeseop’s footsteps were light as he walked out of the columbarium.
Although the winter wind blew through his coat, it wasn’t cold.
On the contrary, his chest was full of warmth.
Under the warm sunlight, Choi Taeseop looked up.
The boy who had allowed him to fully remember his friend’s image, he couldn’t begin to express his gratitude to him.
“He said he was going to Seoul.”
Just as the saying goes, “Horses to Jeju, people to Seoul,” the boy was also heading to Seoul.
He would also again pursue his dream of becoming a scriptwriter in Seoul.
He didn’t know when it would be, but he wanted to have the boy bring to life his script once more.
As if reading his heart, a nameless bird crossing the sky responded.
It made a large turn as if answering him.
 A columbarium is a structure that houses urns containing cremated remains.
 “말은 제주로, 사람은 서울로,” which literally translates to “Horses to Jeju, people to Seoul,” is used to express the idea that people should go where they can best thrive or succeed.
Jeju Island has a native horse breed called Jeju horse.
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