It was a night like any other night. Black, cool, foreboding. Just the perfect backdrop for master illusionist JC Sum.
But he wasn’t prepared for what he was about to face. Excitement coursing through his veins, the Singaporean illusionist, dubbed as “The Ace of Asia” by MagicSeen (a Britain-based magic magazine), walked into the hall with his team.
The scene that met his eyes was like a magic trick gone awry. Music blaring in the background, drunken men and women were dancing around tables willy-nilly.
“It was a madhouse,” recalls the 39-year-old.
The real drama began when Sum went onto the stage. No sooner had he stepped up on the platform, a man charged at him, eliciting a fight.
“My crew had to literally pull this drunk guy off the stage. It was dangerous. I was worried people might start throwing bottles at me,” explains Sum.
He tried to call off the show but the bosses of the private event did not give him the green light. The show had to go on.
“But I learnt a lesson that night. From then on, I had a new clause added to my contract. It allows me to stop my show if there’s danger to me or my crew,” says Sum.
This was more than a decade ago.
Sum, who began his career as an illusionist in 1993, was in Kuala Lumpur last month for a private showcase where he debuted his very own iFrame technology illusion act.
It involved a myriad of tech-centric illusions, such as magically transforming a smart phone into a digital tablet, shrinking a smart phone to half its size, interactive visual effects with the tablet, and making money appear and disappear from within the iFrame.
Calling it “very fresh and exciting”, Sum conceptualised iFrame back in 2012 and had performed it in Hong Kong, Singapore and India.
“As an artiste, you are always trying to do something new. Find new ways to impress and entertain the audience, especially as technology evolves and as people get more educated and jaded with the Internet.
“Which is why I pushed myself with the iFrame act. This is necessary. You have to stay relevant and evolve with pop culture because as you get older, you will get younger audiences watching your show. You have to understand what they like and what appeals to them,” Sum points out.
As a young magician, Sum dabbled in closeup and street magic. “I even wrote in to restaurants. It was a thing in the United States at that time called table hopping magic.
“So when people are waiting for their food in restaurants, the magician will hop from table to table to perform closeup magic.”
Now, Sum is a much sought-after illusionist in Asia, having bagged many magic awards internationally. He has performed over 3,500 shows in 34 countries spread across four continents.
He had made numerous TV appearances including Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde (Paris, France), Abracadabra (Kuwait), The Amazing Race Asia and The Amazing Race Israel.
Sum has written nine books on illusion designs and presentations for the magic community as well as business books for live entertainers. He has also given numerous talks on his perspective and approach to business, including TEDxNTU, TEDxCQ and Passion Unleashed talks.
Sum’s greatest act, touted as the largest single live illusion ever staged in this part of the world, saw the illusionist teleporting himself from the midst of nearly 10,000 spectators on street level to the roof of a 50-floor building, surrounded by a group of witnesses.
Staged at Raffles Place, Singapore, the mega illusion was called The Impossible Teleportation.
Interestingly, Sum’s introduction to magic was a magic set he received as a gift when he was 12.
“It fascinated me and I remember opening it up. I was able to do one or two of the tricks and that got me hooked. After that, I borrowed books from the library and bought books from the bookstore. I’m generally self-taught.
“But as I became more involved in magic, I got to know the circle of magicians from Singapore. I joined the Singapore chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. I learned a lot from many of the older magicians. So I don’t have a specific mentor,” Sum tells.
When asked what ultimately drew him into the craft, Sum says it’s about creating an experience of wonderment for the audience.
“When I watch magic, even now, I like to be fooled. When you’re fooled at that moment, even if it’s for a split second, you have this sense of wonder, which we adults don’t experience that often. Kids experience it all the time.
“So magic always reminds me of this sense of wonder, which always keeps you optimistic and happy. No matter how smart you think you might be, for that second, you’re just disarmed and it’s very pure, and that moment of innocence and purity is something we as adults don’t experience all the time. And as magical artist, we can create that,” Sum concludes.
For more information about the illusionist, visit jcsum.com.