Breezy satire on local show business

The Movie That No One Saw, a finalist of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize last year, is May Seah’s (above) debut novel.
The Movie That No One Saw, a finalist of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize last year, is May Seah’s (above) debut novel.EPIGRAM BOOKS



By May Seah

Epigram Books/Paperback/ 145 pages/$26.64/Major bookstores/3.5 stars

The Movie That No One Saw, a finalist of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize last year, is a fun and breezy parody of the Singapore entertainment scene by May Seah, a senior digital lifestyle journalist with broadcaster Channel NewsAsia.

The first-time author brings to life the ins and outs of the media industry in this satirical novel about a leading man with a secret.

Adjonis Keh (read with a silent 'd'), known as Jon to his friends and ardent fans, is an actor whose bankable looks and realistic acting have won him industry awards and endorsement deals.

But Keh lacks passion for acting and had stumbled into it after a near-death experience - he was given only five months to live after he was attacked by a disease-carrying tick on a hiking trip in China. He recovered, though, and decided to try acting after he was approached by a talent scout.

Keh is abysmal at acting to the point of looking fake acting as a corpse. But he discovers a personal technique that allows him to overcome his absolute inability to act.

This secret, however, is threatened by an unexpected relationship with inquisitive rookie entertainment reporter April Mehta, who takes more than the typical skin-deep interest in his life.

Besides the leads, the supporting cast here includes an actor who has "built a respectable career on taking his shirt off" and an actress who lives her life on Instagram and works to "create the subtle impression that all her male co-stars were in love with her".

In the novel, Seah also displays a touch of camp with absurdist drama titles such as Flowerbudlets Of Springtimeness and Bishanian Boudoirs.

Just as one should suspend reality when watching a film, one should also expect the unexpected in the novel, as Seah taps meta-realistic and magical elements.

In a bizarre segment, Keh manages to get into the skin of a character he is playing so much that the character's scent emanates from TV screens.

In another segment, which cries out for further development, a bewildering technological apocalypse takes place, wiping out online data.

Still, on the whole, Seah succeeds in creating an earnest satirical novel that pokes fun at the entertainment industry from the perspective of a likeable leading man. And in that regard, The Movie That No One Saw is deserving of a sequel.

If you like this, read: The Riot Act by Sebastian Sim (2018, Epigram Books, $26.64, Major bookstores). The winner of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2017 is a bold retelling of the Little India riot from the view of three women. The raucously funny novel forces the reader to contemplate what is wrong with society.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2019, with the headline 'Breezy satire on local show business'. Subscribe