Chapter 97: Cut-off (1)
Red alert. But fortunately, Kang Woojin was quick.
He pinched Kang Hyun-ah’s side so subtly. Then, Woojin calmly asked the startled Kang Hyun-ah.
“What’s wrong? Do you have a stomachache or something?”
“No, just now…”
The funny thing was, Kang Hyun-ah, meeting her brother’s eyes, firmly shut her mouth. The reason was simple.
‘Wow- If I say more, I feel like I might die.’
It was because she could feel the murderous intent from Kang Woojin’s intense gaze. Nonetheless, fortunately, Choi Sung-gun didn’t notice anything but slightly cocked his head.
He exhaled a small breath with his arms crossed.
“Well, that’s fine. It’s no problem even if your sister is the fan club president. But, this part, let’s keep it among us three. Does anyone else know?”
Kang Hyun-ah, somewhat disheartened, answered.
“Ah- the admins. So, my three friends.”
“Make sure they keep it under wraps, too. Well, it wouldn’t be a huge problem even if it leaks out, but just in case, it might cause harm to your sister or family. The press here is notoriously pervasive.”
“Yes, yes! I will!”
“I would also appreciate if you could be diligent with fan club activities. Don’t slack just because you’re family, okay?”
“Haha, you’re quite spirited. Maybe it’s because your brother is particularly cold? You seem to be quite cheerful and brisk in contrast.”
“…What? Yes? My brother, cold?”
The crisis revisited. Thanks to this, Kang Woojin stepped forward and spoke.
“CEO, I would like to speak with my sister alone.”
“Huh? You do- let’s see. Wrap it up in 10 minutes.”
“Miss Hyun-ah? We can meet again next time.”
As Choi Sung-gun, waving his hand, exited the waiting room, Kang Woojin immediately locked the door, causing Kang Hyun-ah to flinch. She stuttered in fear.
Watching his sister, Kang Woojin let out a small sigh and rubbed his face.
“Ah- never mind. Are you really going to do that? The fan club?”
“Yes. I want to do it.”
“Well, just because! It’s amazing that you’re an actor, and I want to!”
“But you’re not my fan. You’re just family.”
“Family can be fans too!”
Kang Woojin flicked Kang Hyun-ah’s forehead.
Then, Kang Woojin pulled out his wallet from his back pocket. He took out a few 50,000-won bills and offered them to Kang Hyun-ah, who was rubbing her forehead.
“Here, some pocket money. And if you’re going to do it, do it right. Balance it with your studies. If you can’t, hand it over to your friends.”
“Shut up. If I hear you’re slacking in your studies from mom, I’ll cut you off right away?”
Kang Woojin paused for a moment and lowered his voice.
“Make sure you remember what the CEO just said. Don’t go around saying you’re my sister. Especially don’t talk about the days we lived together or anything from the past.”
“Do you think I’m crazy! Why would I go around saying that!”
“Just being here makes you crazy enough.”
“Ssh! That’s too much- I’m promoting you a lot as the manager of the fan club!”
“Do you want one more?”
“…If you’re giving, I’ll gratefully take it.”
Shaking his head, Woojin took out one more 50,000-won bill. Kang Hyun-ah bowed and accepted it. Then, she suddenly changed the subject.
“But brother, at the ‘Sports Day’ or here, your cold demeanor, lowering your voice, is all image-making, right?”
Kang Woojin’s answer was simple.
“Do you want to keep wondering? Want to return all the pocket money you just received?”
Financial therapy. No, financial silencing.
“No, sir. I was wrong.”
“Remember, whenever you’re curious, think about my pocket money being cut off.”
“Yes. I’ve already forgotten everything.”
“Go, now. Go and study.”
With that command, Kang Hyun-ah backed away, bowing to Woojin.
“I will take my leave.”
Kang Hyun-ah slipped out of the waiting room. Shortly, Woojin let out a long, weary sigh.
“Haah- Well, at least that’s one less problem.
Late at night.
It was around 11 PM. After a long time, Choi Sung-gun, was on the move somewhere in his personal car. Kang Woojin, who had successfully concluded a fan signing event, had left work around 10 PM. However, Choi Sung-gun’s destination after visiting the company was not home.
“Hmm, seems about right.”
It was a liquor bar near the company. Of course, he didn’t come to drown himself in solitude. He had someone to meet. Anyway, after parking his car in the bar’s parking lot, he let out a small sigh.
“Phew, I wish something comes out of this guy.”
Muttering, he loosened his hair, tied it up firmly again, and slowly walked into the liquor bar.
The bar was located underground. It was largely wood-scented, with an ambiguous level of brightness. Not too dark, not too bright, and with calm music playing. It had the perfect atmosphere for quietly enjoying a drink. There weren’t many tables, roughly five.
Perhaps because it was a weekday, there weren’t many customers.
Then, Choi Sung-gun…
Scanned the entire bar. He was looking for the person he agreed to meet. Eventually, he spotted a middle-aged man sitting at a secluded table, approached him, and as he got closer, the man, who had been sipping whiskey alone, looked up. He had a buzz cut and a large nose.
“Wow, look who we have here. Isn’t this CEO Choi, who snagged a mega-newcomer?”
Greeted by the man with the big nose, Choi Sung-gun cracked a small smile and pulled out a chair.
“Cut the bad acting. Did you get here early?”
“Heh, I had a craving for whiskey, and if you call, I’ve got to come immediately.”
The man, chuckling, waved his whiskey glass.
“Can I drink without holding back?”
“When have you not? Drink until you drop, I’ll cover it.”
“Heh, this is why I’m a reporter.”
That was right. The man was a reporter. His name was Kim Hak-hyun, the head of the entertainment division at a major domestic media company, but his treatment within the company was closer to that of a deputy editor-in-chief. He and Choi Sung-gun had a fairly long relationship, knowing each other for over 10 years and having a sure give-and-take relationship under the guise of friendship.
For Choi Sung-gun, a well-known figure in the entertainment industry, such connections were abundant.
“A reporter, my foot. You, Mr. Kim, don’t run on the field anymore, do you? So, you’re just an old man in the back office now.”
“Hey. Even though I’m at the desk, I occasionally run on the field. I’m not that old yet. So, what’s up? Why the sudden call? You must be busy rowing your boat from Kang Woojin to Hong Hye-yeon, no?”
“Nothing special, really. It’s just that we need to pamper our media friends more in times like these.”
“Heh heh heh. Ah, so you called me just to maintain the relationship? Well, you don’t always need a hole to hammer in a nail. Even if you apply cement well, a nail will stick if you hammer it. That’s just how it is in this line of work.”
“Scary, so scary.”
“You know it all, so what’s the point? But speaking of Kang Woojin, I see there’s already some trashy gossip.”
For the next several minutes, the two exchanged small talk, either as friends or as an industry representative and a reporter. Meanwhile, Choi Sung-gun kept prompting.
He urged for more whiskey. He didn’t need to get drunk, but it was good to be a bit tipsy. Genuine information tends to surface when defenses are down.
‘It should work a bit more.’
Choi Sung-gun had been poking around here and there for a few days after hearing about Seo Chae-eun from Woojin. However, he couldn’t be too obvious. That’s why he had to work mainly with the reporters he usually managed. But the limited scope wasn’t very fruitful, and things weren’t easy with Seo Chae-eun being such a hot topic.
‘If this guy doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll have to circle around the reporters a few more times. Should I probe into the entertainment companies?’
If he exhausted all his searches and still came up empty, that wouldn’t be too bad. It would mean Kang Woojin was just being oversensitive, and it was just a matter of letting it slide.
‘No matter how good his instincts are, Woojin is still human after all.’
Time passed, and several more minutes went by. Before they knew it, Kim Hak-hyun’s face had slightly flushed. Choi Sung-gun was relatively fine. Here, he nonchalantly threw in a bait.
“Speaking of which, it’s a real headache.”
“It seems like you’re overflowing with money like a waterfall, so what’s the headache? You just need to row the boat well.”
“It’s because of ‘Island of the Missing,’ Woojin is getting so much attention that all kinds of ridiculous rumors are going around. Like how Kang Woojin is related to Kwon Ki-taek, or that I’ve injected a lot of money.”
“Heh, is this all you’ve got for today’s gossip? Ah, speaking of which, since ‘Island of the Missing’ came up. They revealed Kang Woojin and Ryu Jung-min, but why no word about other actors? You must know CEO Choi, right?”
“Share a little sneak peek. Just one piece of info, not much.”
Choi Sung-gun responds calmly to Kim Hak-hyun’s sly smile.
“Come on, spill the beans. If I speak now, who knows, maybe an article will pop up in an hour. There must be rumors circulating in the media too.”
“Sure, there are. Is it true that Hong Hye-yeon is in? Since she’s been in two projects in a row with Kang Woojin, she might be in this one too?”
“Hmm, what about Seo Chae-eun? I heard she met with director Kwon Ki-taek recently.”
The flow was good. Choi Sung-gun refilled Kim Hak-hyun’s glass of whiskey and countered smoothly.
“Oh man, Seo Chae-eun? It’s a wonder she still maintains a top position with that attitude.”
He subtly changed the topic.
“It’s strange, isn’t it? The media always digs into Seo Chae-eun every year, but nothing significant comes up.”
“Heh, what, is she like a counterbalance to Hong Hye-yeon?”
“Counterbalance my foot. Still, in terms of brand evaluation, our Hye-yeon is higher.”
“Even so, they are neck and neck.”
They spent about 20 minutes on trivial talk about Seo Chae-eun. However, no substantial information was forthcoming, even though Kim Hak-hyun was getting tipsy. Checking the time discreetly, Choi Sung-gun clicked his tongue internally.
‘Damn. Is this pointless?’
Judging it a waste of time, Choi Sung-gun was considering making his exit when…
“Was it last month? I heard ‘PowerPatch’ was onto Seo Chae-eun, so we checked if we had something, but all was clear.”
“Yeah. But you know, those types react even to baseless rumors. Probably another false alarm.”
“Yeah, that sounds like them. Shooting in the dark ten times, hoping one hits.”
For a moment, Choi Sung-gun’s expression became serious before returning to normal.
‘Did he say ‘PowerPatch’ was involved?’
That was a piece of information that smelled fishy.
An hour later, inside Choi Sung-gun’s car.
Choi Sung-gun, who had left the whiskey bar, sat in the back seat. A chauffeur was driving. He looked out the window and checked the time.
It was already past midnight, an ambiguous time to make calls anywhere. He untied his hair, and started to sort his thoughts.
‘In the end, all I got from Kim Hak-hyun was the ‘PowerPatch’ thing. And even that was a casual bit of information.’
Under normal circumstances, it was something that could be ignored without any problem. However, the ‘PowerPatch’ kept bothering Choi Sung-gun. Why? Because it strangely coincided with Kang Woojin’s crazy intuition and timing.
‘Why did ‘PowerPatch’ investigate Seo Chae-eun? If there’s no news by now, is it a bluff? Or are they keeping it under wraps?’
In fact, Choi Sung-gun was a person who bet only on certainties. But this time, there was nothing clear. If there was, it was Kang Woojin’s divine hunch? Of course, with Choi Sung-gun’s extensive network, he could find some clues if he looked into it.
The problem is,
“There’s no time.”
The pressure of a race against time was on. It would take at least two weeks to reach a solid lead.
‘Two weeks are too late.’
The best scenario would be that Seo Chae-eun has no issues, and everything passes without incident.
‘But if Seo Chae-eun has done something shady enough to send her career into a nosedive, and news of her joining ‘Island of the Missing’ is publicized big time before that blows up, it’d be a disaster.’
The hype around ‘Island of the Missing’ was still limited to Kang Woojin and Ryu Jung-min. Naturally, thanks to Woojin’s issue, the popularity was at its peak. Releasing top stars like Seo Chae-eun next would obviously increase it further.
If a scandal involving Seo Chae-eun exploded at this point, it would damage the project.
Making a movie is like walking on thin ice. Even a small issue can cause the audience numbers to fluctuate wildly. If you’re not careful, the whole production can easily collapse. But even that situation is a luxury of sorts. If it turns out that Seo Chae-eun had participated up to the script reading or even proceeded with filming before everything blew up, it would be a disaster without remedy.
Fortunately, Kang Woojin had nipped it in the bud this time.
‘If Woojin hadn’t told me, Seo Chae-eun would have smoothly made it to the filming stage, 100%.’
Director Woo Hyun-goo had vanished without a trace. If a scandal of that scale had hit Seo Chae-eun, even a film by Director Kwon Ki-taek could have collapsed.
Now, how should he handle this situation?
He needed to move minimally to shorten the time and find a way to get the picture he wanted. Yet, the task had to be carried out by Choi Sung-gun alone.
‘If something goes wrong, I should be the only one to take the blame.’
He had at most a day or two of leeway. But the information he gained was scarce. Soon, Choi Sung-gun revved up his brain. He thought and thought, and then,
“There’s no solution other than fighting separate battles.”
Having made a decision, Choi Sung-gun picked up his phone. He selected a contact from the formidable list stored on his phone.
– Editor Kim of PowerPatch.
He was the editor of the media outlet PowerPatch. Choi Sung-gun then sent a message to the editor.
– How have you been? I think it’s time for us to meet. Please get back to me when you’re available. Let’s have lunch together.
If things went according to Choi Sung-gun’s plan, he just had to give a little insider info and a nudge to the editor of ‘PowerPatch’.
‘If there’s something to bite on, PowerPatch will move on its own.’
Next was ‘Island of the Missing,’ namely, Director Kwon Ki-taek. They would have to delay all current promotions and production processes by a few days.
‘I should take precautions. It’s better to just openly leak this. Fortunately, my credibility isn’t low.’
That was the moment when his battle on multiple fronts officially began.
As dawn passed and the morning of the 27th arrived, it was around 8 AM. Although it was a weekend, the roads of Seoul were as congested as ever. Director Kwon Ki-taek’s van was stuck in the traffic.
Inside his car, a gentle classic piece was playing.
With a face full of worries, Director Kwon Ki-taek quietly waited for the traffic to clear. Then, the ringtone from a phone connected via Bluetooth sounded through the speakers. The caller was from the distribution company of ‘Island of the Missing.’
“Ah, I’m on my way now. Is it urgent?”
“Oh, is that so? No, it’s not urgent! Just called to confirm. We’ll start circulating articles about the remaining actors as you instructed in an hour.”
“Hmm. Starting with Ms. Chae-eun?”
“Yes! That’s correct, we will open with Ms. Seo Chae-eun in the morning, and in the afternoon, we will go with Jeon Woo-chang. Tomorrow it’s Kim Yi-won. The rest will be announced afterward.”
“Alright, let’s talk more when I get there.”
“Please drive safely!”
The call ended. Interestingly, as soon as it ended, the ringtone sounded again. This time, the caller was somewhat unexpected.
It was Choi Sung-gun. Thanks to him, Director Kwon, who had slightly raised his eyebrows in surprise, pressed the button on the steering wheel, and Choi Sung-gun’s voice quickly sounded from the speaker.
“Director, I apologize for contacting you early in the morning. I have something important to tell you.”
“No, it’s alright. I understand it must be urgent if you’re calling at this time. Go ahead.”
“I’ll cut straight to the point. I would like you to pause all PR activities related to the actors and the movie production for now.”
“I will visit you shortly to explain everything in detail.”
Normally, this would be absurd, but Director Kwon was extremely composed. Calmly, he asked,
“In an hour, the PR for the actors will start in full swing – I’m a bit confused? Of course, since it’s you, CEO Choi, I think it must be a serious issue. Can you briefly inform me before we meet?”
After a moment of silence, Choi Sung-gun’s voice was heard again through the speaker.
“It seems a major scandal is about to break out involving Ms. Seo Chae-eun.”
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