But finally realizing that the crux of our problem was the hero, not the tiger, we decided against castrating the animal. Without a man who physically resembled Huping, we could get nowhere, even with a tamed tiger. Then someone suggested that we find a tiger skin and have it worn by a man. In other words, shoot the last part of the scene with a fake animal. This seemed feasible, but I had my doubts. As the set clerk, whose job it is to make sure that all the details match those in the previous shooting, I thought that we couldn't possibly get a skin identical to the real tiger's. After I expressed my misgivings, people fell silent for a long time.
Finally Director Yu said, "Why don't we have the tiger put down and use its skin?"
"Maybe we should do that," agreed Old Min, who was also in the series, playing a bad official.
Secretary Feng was uncertain whether Huping could still fill his role. Director Yu assured him, saying, "That shouldn't be a problem. Is he still a man if he can't even fight a dead tiger?"
People cracked up.
Then it occurred to us that the tiger was a protected animal and that we might get into trouble with the law if we had it killed. Director Yu told us not to worry. He was going to talk with a friend of his in the Municipal Administration.
Old Min agreed to wear the tiger's skin and fight with Huping. He was good at this kind of horseplay.
Two days later, our plan was approved. So we had the tiger shot by a militiaman with a semiautomatic rifle. The man had been instructed not to damage the animal's head, so he aimed at its chest. He fired six shots into the tiger, but it simply refused to die--it sat on its haunches, panting, its tongue hanging out of the corner of its mouth while blood streamed down its front legs. Its eyes were half closed, as though it were sleepy. Even when it had finally fallen down, people waited for some time before opening the cage.
To stay clear of anybody who might be involved with the black market, we sold the whole carcass to the state-owned Red Arrow Pharmaceutical Factory for forty-eight hundred yuan, a little more than we had paid for the live tiger. But that same evening we got a call from the manager of the factory, who complained that one of the tiger's hind legs was missing. We assured him that when the carcass left our company, it was intact. Apparently en route someone had hacked off the leg to get a piece of tiger bone, which is a kind of treasure in Chinese medicine, often used to strengthen the physique, relieve rheumatic pains, and ease palpitations caused by fright. The factory refused to pay the full price unless we delivered the missing leg. But how on earth could we recover it? Secretary Feng haggled hard in vain, and they docked five hundred yuan from the original figure.
This time there was no need to persuade our hero. Just at the mention of beating a fake tiger, Huping got excited, itching to have a go. He declared,
"I'm still a tiger-fighter. I'll whip him!"
Because the shooting could be repeated from now on, there wasn't much preparation. We set out for the woods in just one truck. Old Min sat in the cab with a young actress who was allergic to the smog and wore a large gauze mask. On the way, Huping grinned at us, gnashed his teeth, and made hisses through his nose. His eyes radiated a hard light. That spooked me, and I avoided looking at him.
When we arrived at the place and got off the vehicle, he began glaring at Old Min. The look on his face suggested intense malice. It made me feel awful, because he used to be such a good-hearted man, gentle and sweet. That was another reason why the girls had called him Prince.
Old Min changed his mind and refused to play the tiger. Director Yu and Secretary Feng tried to persuade him, but he simply wouldn't do it, saying,
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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