The medic poured some water into the bowl and took out a sedative tablet. He made Huping take the medicine.
"Good wine, good wine!" Huping said after drinking the water. He wiped his lips with his forearm.
Then, to our astonishment, he burst out singing like a hero in a revolutionary model opera:
My spirit rushing toward the Milky Way,
With my determination and bravery
I shall eradicate every vermin from earth. . . .
A young woman snickered. Two men clutched Huping's arms and dragged him away while he was babbling about plucking out the tiger's heart, liver, and lungs. They put him into the back of a truck.
"He's punch-drunk," said Secretary Feng. "Tough job--I don't blame him."
The tiger was lifted back into its cage. Director Yu wasn't happy about the botched scene. According to the classic story, which our audience would know well, the hero is supposed to ride the tiger for a while, bring it down, and punch its head hundreds of times until it breathes its last. The scene we had just shot missed the final struggle, so we would have to try again.
But Huping was in no condition to work. For the rest of the day he laughed or giggled at random. Whenever someone came into sight he'd shout, "Hey, I killed the tiger!" We worried about him, so we called in a pedicab and sent him to the hospital for a checkup.
The diagnosis was mild schizophrenia, and the doctor insisted that Huping be hospitalized.
What should we do about the fight scene? Get another tiger-fighter? Not so easy. Where on earth could we find a fellow as handsome and strapping as our Prince? We looked through a pile of movie and TV magazines in the hopes of finding someone who resembled him, but most of the young actors we saw were mere palefaced boys; few had the stature and spirit of a hero.
Somehow the prefecture's Propaganda Department heard about the governor's interest in our TV series. Its deputy director phoned, saying we should complete the revision as early as possible. It was already mid-September, and trees were dropping leaves. Soon frost and snow would change the color of the landscape and make it impossible to duplicate the setting.
Because it was unlikely that we would find a substitute for Huping, some people suggested using him again. Quite a few of us opposed this idea; those who supported it didn't seem to care that a man's life was at risk. In private, some of us--clerks, assistants, actors--complained about the classic novel that contains the tiger-fighting episode. Why would an author write such a difficult scene? It's impossible for any man to ride a tiger and then beat it to death bare-handed. The story is a pure fabrication that has misled readers for hundreds of years. It may have been easy for the writer to describe it on paper, but in reality, how could we create such a hero?
Full of anxiety, Director Yu suffered a case of inflamed eyes--they turned into curved slits between red, doughy lids. He'd wear sunglasses whenever he went out of the office building. He told us, "We must finish the scene! It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!"
One night he even dreamed he himself wrestled the tiger to the ground, and his elbow inflicted a bruise on his wife's chest.
We were worried, too. Our company couldn't afford to feed the tiger for long; besides, we had no place to shelter it for the coming winter.
The following week, Secretary Feng held a staff meeting with us. We discussed the predicament at some length. Gradually it became clear that if we couldn't find a substitute, we might have to use Huping again. The proponents of this idea argued their position logically and convinced us, its opponents, that this was the only way to get the job done.
At the end of the meeting, Director Yu stressed that this time everything had to be accurately designed and calculated. The tranquilizer dart should carry a smaller dose so that the tiger would remain on its feet long enough for our hero to ride it a while. Also, we would have to be more careful not to let the beast hurt him.
Excerpted from The Bridegroom by Ha Jin Copyright© 2000 by Ha Jin. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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