Zaro was rather indifferent to the online commentary that all his movies were crap. He knew the movies he produced were shallow and lacked depth, but that was the kind of film he liked—simple, straightforward, epic scenes, and visually exciting. Most importantly, they pleased his girlfriends. He felt good about them too.
When he had launched a production company after graduation, he had been in it only for the experience. He hadn't thought that far ahead and was prepared to incur a loss. And yet he was able to break even.
So eventually, Zaro had become addicted. He did things his way, regardless of how the media and general public trashed him. Who cared what other people said? As his uncle once put it: "How are you going to get through life without a bit of thick skin?"
But now, he no longer wanted to be a spectator. He wanted to act himself, to star in an epic love story and play an invincible hero who saved the world.
Everyone aspired to be a hero. Zaro actually quite envied the men and women of his generation who joined the military. He wasn't cut out for it and he didn't want to suffer, so he would fulfill his dream through a movie. That was much easier.
He was ready to go all out. Ten million for a song, even if it was all for nothing—no problem. It was a movie built with cash. If he didn't like the song, so be it.
He had thought about poaching the composer behind "Divine Punishment" and "Cocoon Breach" to tailor a song for him, but Silver Wing had done a good job of keeping the musician under wraps. All he could do was wait. If he liked the third movement, then he would make a move on the composer. If not, he would blacklist Silver Wing and the composer and not work with them again.
Zaro was a big spender, but he wasn't stupid. If the song wasn't to his liking, he wasn't paying a cent.
As for the plot of the movie?
He didn't care. It was just a movie, after all. It just had to be entertaining. The story didn't matter. This year, it was an ordinary person who saved the world by defeating monsters, next year it'd be a mutant, and the year after the next it'd be a superman. And then a monster battling other monsters the following year. It was all the same.
For his eighth production, he was going to battle beasts in robot armor. How cool was that? His stunt double was doing all the fighting. All he had to do was show his handsome face at some point. Piece of cake.
Zaro had even named the film himself: "God of War."
People teased after hearing the title: such hubris. Does his great-grandfather know?
Zaro's great-grandfather, the father of Leizhou's current governor, had belonged to the famed "God of War" unit when he was a young soldier. He had gone on to a highly decorated career and served as the deputy commander of the Leizhou military.
Now he was an old man, more than 190 years old. He had stopped wading into family affairs a long time ago, ever since his son became governor of Leizhou. Still, the old man wielded considerable influence. Every year, some of his former troops would pay him a visit.
While Zaro's father was ostracized every time his son loaned military vehicles and equipment for his movies, he was never purged. That wasn't entirely on account of Zaro's grandfather, the governor. The top brass also felt they had to show respect for Zaro's great-grandfather. As long as Zaro's demands weren't too outlandish and he was willing to pay, they were willing to turn a blind eye.
But Zaro didn't think there was anything wrong with the title. He was starring this time. It wouldn't be worth the effort unless he crafted a heroic image for himself.
As he was pondering the title, his agent ducked out to take a call, then scrambled back.
The agent looked miffed. "Senior Master, we have a problem."
"What now?" Zaro asked.
"'King of Snipers' has bumped up its release date to Jan. 1."
No wonder his agent was so alarmed. The reason they had scheduled their movie for a January release was because there was little competition, only a few low-budget productions. Considering Zaro's ability to generate buzz, they were confident about their box office returns. They weren't aiming high anyway. All they wanted was to break even.
Zaro himself was a walking advertisement. So many people followed his every move. He was a frequent topic of discussion even on other continents.
"Leizhou Senior Master's New Girlfriend Revealed." "Eligible Bachelors on Each Continent You Don't Want to Piss Off." "Senior Master Zaro Named Leizhou Male Celebrity of the Year." The headlines never ended. Even though Zaro didn't sing or act and had no other talents, the constant attention made him a bona fide celebrity in Leizhou.
News of Zaro's starring role had dominated entertainment headlines for days. Interest was huge, so Zaro's agent wasn't worried about the box office. This was the first time Senior Master had starred in a movie, so many people were curious. The movie didn't have to be a big hit. They just wanted to break even.
But now, a genuine blockbuster that was scheduled for release in February had bumped up its release date to January. Somehow, this move seemed aimed at Zaro.
"King of Snipers" was a coproduction by Leizhou's two leading film studios. It featured an all-star lineup. Rumor was that it was awards bait. Movie fans were looking forward to it keenly, and films that catered to mass tastes and critics alike tended to have more depth and cultural significance.
A great plot, top actors, and a big budget to boot—even outsiders could tell a movie like this was a box office guarantee that would also likely meet critical approval. So when news that "King of Snipers" was being released in February broke, Zaro and company had breathed a sigh of relief. It was such good news that they didn't have to go up against such a Goliath.
But now, "King of Snipers" was being bumped up. What could they do?
The good thing was that they had never nailed down their release date. They had announced a January release, but they could still push it back to February. All they had to do was come up with an excuse to feed the press.
Zaro also started getting calls from members of his family.
"Yes, Uncle. What is it?"
"Zaro, have you heard that 'King of Snipers' is bumping up its release date? Why don't you push back your release date by a month."
Zaro hung up before his uncle finished. He sat on his chair pouting.
Less than a minute later, another call came through. Zaro took a quick glance at the caller ID and put the call through.
"What's so urgent, Auntie? If it's about my movie, stop now."
"Zaro, don't be impulsive."
Zaro hung up again and threw his tablet to the floor.
His terrified assistant tip-toed to the tablet and picked it up in case Senior Master wanted to keep using it.
Zaro was fuming. Everyone wanted him to back down, but he was no fool.
The filmmakers behind "King of Snipers" wouldn't have bumped up their release date so publicly without the tacit approval of the Renault family.
Zaro was right. The move did in fact have the blessing of the Renault family. The point was to give Zaro a reality check, to make him realize that his success was due to respect for the Renault family. The time had come to burst his bubble, to restrain his personality through hardship.
Zaro had too many enemies. He had publicly trashed several leading actors. In revenge, their agencies had banded together and coordinated with the Renault family. The release date for "King of Snipers" was advanced after the Renaults gave the go-ahead.
Members of the Renault family, including Zaro's father, had spoken privately of wanting to teach Zaro a lesson, within reason. Just a bit of real competition would do. They didn't want to overdo it. If the Renault family ended up losing face, other family members wouldn't sign off on the move.
The Renault family didn't own the continent outright, but it was an indisputable fact that it was still the most powerful family in Leizhou. And they were still a prominent force 500 years into the New Era. That showed how united they were on key issues.
The shrewd operators in business and entertainment knew how far to push things.
In the Leizhou capital, several investors that backed "King of Snipers" were kidding around in an office.
"It's time to let Zaro know that the only reason his movies made money and broke even in the past is because we gave way on account of his family name."
"We never complained. We even cracked down on the naysayers. But he should be more mature and not just mouth off without regard to our reputations."
"Let's let him find out what real competition feels like."
What else was there to Zaro's movies except for buzz and military hardware?
They were total crap.
Zaro was the target of their sniping.
"The gap in quality is obvious when there's a contrast to Zaro's films. People like Zaro are a nuisance who poison the industry. It's time we industry elders come out and restore order."
News of the earlier release date for "King of Snipers" generated a massive response in the Leizhou entertainment industry.
"God of War" had also announced a January release, so these two hotly discussed films were going up against each other.
Except the quality of the former was guaranteed. You could tell from the names of the director, the screenwriter, the actors, and the production companies. As for the latter... Everyone knew what to expect.
After "King of Snipers" announced its release date, Wireless Media kept putting off a formal announcement on the release date for "God of War," leading to speculation that Zaro was going to cave and push back his movie.
"Looks like 'God of War' won't be screening in January," the editor of a local magazine told a friend in private.
"It's the right move to back down. This is no time to cling on, even if he's a Renault. I'm sure other members of the family have long taken issue with him."
"Yeah, you need to pick your battles. Being too aggressive and egotistical does you no good. He's in his 20s now. It's time to grow up. Zaro has caused too much trouble already. Even other members of the Renault family can't stand him."
"And it's quite the lesson. Zaro is going to get his ass kicked, isn't he?"
"Let's hope that Senior Master can learn his lesson."
"But given Senior Master's personality, will he back down?" others speculated.
Zaro acted like he was king of Leizhou. He was used to having his way. Was he going to back down over a slight hiccup like this?
Wireless Media headquarters.
"Senior Master, should we have someone rework the script?" Zaro's agent asked.
"No. We're almost done with the shoot. How can we change the script now?" Zaro let out an eerie laugh. "You wanna mess with me? This mofo isn't going anywhere. Let's check with Silver Wing and see when the third movement will be completed."
Sensing Zaro's determination, his agent gave up and called one of Duan Qianji's assistants.
After being briefed by her assistant, Duan Qianji asked Fang Zhao, "You're positive you'll be done before January?"
After getting off the phone with Fang Zhao, Duan Qianji issued her orders: "We're sticking to our plan. The third movement will be released on Jan. 1. Get word to Wireless Media that we'll deliver the third movement in late December."
Zaro's agent looked ashen when he heard back. His wistful thinking that Silver Wing might not meet its January deadline was dashed. He didn't want to lie, so he relayed Duan Qianji's message to Zaro unfiltered.
"That's great. Then let's set our release date for Jan. 1. I'm not backing down an inch." Zaro kicked his feet up and started fidgeting hard. "Have the production team hurry up. Let's wrap things up by the end of December. We'll announce the release date now. I'm going head-to-head with them."
The result of the matchup didn't matter. He didn't care about the box office. He just wanted to stick to his guns.
This. Mofo. Ain't. Backing. Down.