My Personal Review of “Duel Mahakarya Magician”

All magicians, and I think especially professional magicians who are constantly performing, love to see good magic. As an enthusiast, during the formative years of studying magic, I watched everything. There was no such thing as good or bad magic because I was just absorbing everything in magic.

However, after years as a professional, one gets jaded with bad magic. Now, don’t get me wrong, we do not get jaded with magic – just BAD, clichéd, overdone magic. I do admit my attention span for bad magic is short and I can generally tell if I will like an act within the first 15 – 30s of watching it.

So, it is a pleasure when we get to watch good magic. We really appreciate the effort and skill of the performers and the efforts going into the presentation to make themselves different.

I felt we got to see really good magic on “Duel Mahakarya Magician” and Indonesia should thank RCTI for putting good magic on terrestrial free to air TV.

Side note: This is probably one of the very few magic shows in the world without a single cane, parasol or snowstorm/ kabuki production in sight! That in itself I thought was a great accomplishment. In speaking to Deddy Corbuzier previously and the producers from RCTI, they were quite adamant to not have these clichéd acts in the show. They too are sick of the appearing parasols and canes.

One of the great things about working on “Duel Mahakarya Magician” was being able to see other performers at work in front of real crowds – as opposed to magic conventions where the audience is mainly magicians or magic enthusiasts and the performers perform speciality acts designed to try to fool magicians.

“Duel Mahakarya Magician” is as “real” an audience as you can get – almost 1000 live audience in attendance and 20 million watching at home. The acts were chosen by the producers of the show who sifted through dozens of acts to see who would fit well on the show and play well to Indonesian lay audiences.

Here are my personal thoughts on the acts that played on the show, in order of appearance.

Peter Marvey

I wrote about Peter Marvey before and commented that he and Franz Harary are probably the only two illusionists in the world who perform only their own original material.

Under his extremely soft-spoken mild-mannered real-life character lies a genius of a magical mind. Peter has dozens of original illusions – not just in terms of aesthetic look and presentation but methods as well. He has really created some unique illusions that you will never see anyone else perform.

Peter presented two illusions in the show. He opened with his “Unicycle” sawing in half illusion. It is a very novel illusion and honestly, when I first saw it on video early last year, I felt it looked a bit too unnatural. He has also done away with the full rotation of the prop during performance which I think is an important improvement. It was flawlessly executed and looked great.

His second illusion was an assistant’s revenge-style illusion and it was new to me. Trust me when I say this, if you have not seen it before, it is an incredible visual illusion! It blew EVERYONE away! I love being fooled and this stunned with the speed and the presentation. The chaining and locking of Peter seemed to take long, but I understand the psychology of that and the payoff made it worth it. I will not spoil it for you but let you watch it here:

Peter was the perfect Las Vegas-style act to open the show and really set the bar high. His dancers add and do not distract from the act and every one of them has different coloured hair, I’m not sure if that is by coincidence or design.

Surprisingly, his illusions pack down very efficiently and flat. We also learnt a “trick” he used for shipping his gear which made perfect sense.

Romy Rafael

Romy is a well-built individual with a cool, almost intense persona, on and off the stage. We spoke the day before and have corresponded over email previously when he bought my books.

He did briefly tell me what he was attempting to do the day before and I thought it would be very challenging to pull off effectively. I might be wrong in the actual effect as it was presented in Indonesian and was a rather long routine. Essentially, as a master hypnotist, Romy hypnotized a foreigner (in this case French) to be able to duplicate a drawing based on descriptions given by different spectators on stage. The catch was the clues were spoken in different Indonesian dialects that the foreigner could not possibly understand. Nevertheless, the foreigner drew the correct item.

There were some novel approaches to choose spectators through the use of a giant balloon drop. Hundreds of paper aeroplanes were also used to choose the item for the onstage spectators to describe as the audience off stage wrote suggestions of items on stage and collectively threw them onto stage. These interactions looked good, played big and extended the effect to the mass live audience.

While long in duration, the live audience seem to enjoy the act and responded very warmly to Romy.

Marc Spelmann

When I first heard that Marc was going to be on the show, I was wondering how was he going to command a stadium-full of people with envelopes and cards? 😛 Especially when he does not speak the language.

Like many in the magic community, I knew Marc by reputation and his mentalism DVDs which I bought and watched several years ago. Naturally, I thought he would be drawing on the same material in his DVDs to present on the show.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that his current (or maybe original) performance style and approach is very different from the ones in his videos. I did speak to him regarding the differences in style the next day and he acknowledged the differences. For one, it was 6 years ago and the DVDs were produced for an American and international audience so the decision was made to deliver the routines straight.

Besides, the difference in presentation style, it was his choice of material and ability to present it without speaking much that is to be admired.

He opened with an effect called “Biokinsis”, prefaced by “Smoke”. “Biokinesis” sees the visual vanishing of the corneas of the eyes, leaving only the white eyeball and black pupils. It is designed as a close-up effect so was very dependent on the camera to pick up the effect for the home viewers. Unfortunately, the LED wall behind him was too blue & bright and the front lighting was wrong. As a result, the effect was not as apparent and visually strong as it could have been due to the over-powerful back and front lighting. I knew what was coming but had a hard time discerning the effect.

Marc’s spoon bending was flawless and his body blocking techniques were excellent. He worked with the two hosts who helped sell the effect to the local audience even more.

His finale was his presentation of the Human Blockhead but what made his different was that he took four 4″ nails and tapped them into his nose. Finally, he took the shaft of the spoon and inserted into his nose (the same spoon used to tap the nails in). The reactions picked up by the cameras were fantastic and really made the effect incredibly strong for TV.

You can see  part of his routine that he presented on the show.

Marc packed the smallest among all the performers (maybe he was too lazy to pack a big bag!) But, he took some small effects and made them work for a large crowd – that is impressive! It also worked because of the context of the show. He was the lone performer who used normal items in a somewhat understated setting amidst the rest of the elaborate stage performances, so it was a welcomed contrast.

On a separate note, Ning & I had a delightful time interacting with Marc. He has a wicked sense of humour, just like me, and we both appreciate each other’s sarcasm :-D! We had the opportunity to share a few ideas and get a peek into his mind. He is a true worker and material, approach and presentation shows it.

Deddy Corbuzier

Deddy is undisputedly Indonesia’s most well-known magician, which is no small deal considering the size of Indonesia’s population. He is a master of theatrics and drama and really knows how to play it up.

He has been criticized in the past for modeling his image very closely to that of Max Maven’s. He took this show as an opportunity to reveal a new look which is very similar to Ming the Merciless (from the old Flash Gordan series). Incidentally, Max modelled his look after Ming. However, while Max is a modern-day Ming, Deddy has taken on the classic Ming look with high collar and cloak/ gown. He has received some criticism for his close resemblance of Ming but I think it is great that he is stepping  away from looking too much like Max.

Just before Marc Spelmann was up, Deddy did a short piece to reveal his new look. It was a theatrical WWE-style Undertaker-like entrance with smoke, lighting and music. He performed Juan Mayoral’s meteors and it fit his look and style. It looked great on TV!

His main act consisted of a prediction effect but was dressed up with a very elaborate set-up. It involved about 30 mannequins with bags over their heads, painted in silver and gold, each standing on a pedestal. By choices made by home viewers who called in to the show and an onstage spectator, all the mannequins were eliminated except one.

The mannequins that were eliminated a few at a time were revealed to be real people posing as “living statues”. Eventually, Deddy used a samurai sword to hack down the sole remaining mannequin to show that it was just a plastic statue.

Personally, when we discussed this afterwards within our own team, we would have presented it in a different way that we felt would have a stronger visual and emotional effect. But, that would mean the routine would only be 4min long whereas Deddy filled 15min.

The Indonesian audience obviously loves Deddy and his WWE-entertainment approach works well for him. I’ve really got to hand it to him as he knows how to create intrigue, suspense and drama for the public and media. For e.g., weeks before, he announced that he would be unveiling a new look at this show. As a result, he got a bunch of publicity for that. I understand, he announced that the new look also included facial cosmetic surgery besides a new hair style and costume. During the press conference a few days before the show, he appeared in public wearing a black hood and sunglasses, further selling the image change and mystery. Isn’t that awesome?

We have interacted with Deddy previously and he is very different out of character. An all-round nice guy with a solid mind of presenting magic and also well-educated in our craft. We look forward to spending more time with him!

J C Sum & ‘Magic Babe’ Ning

Modesty and humility does not allow me to comment on their performance. At least they did not fall flat on their face… that was after the show 😛

Joe Sandy

Joe Sandy is billed as the “Master of Numbers” and his stage character is the most “normal” of the other Indonesian magicians. In fact, his persona is very down to earth. I got the feeling that he is a really sincere and genuine guy who is living the moment and thankful for the success and celebrity he has.

Joe also performed just one routine for his spot on the show. Living up to his billing, he performed a mentalism routine revolving around numbers. It involved about 8 – 10 spectators seated on a row on stage as well as interaction with the live audience. Again, most of this was presented in Indonesian so I could not follow everything that went on.

But, essentially, the spectators sitting on the stage were each given a prediction to hold. A long random number was then generated by different members of the mass audience. Subsequently, it was revealed that each spectator on stage was holding one digit of the number in order.

As a finale, the numbers were put together to form the words RCTI 21 because it was RCTI’s 21st anniversary! This is the short version of the effect as there was also a sequence involving each of the seated spectators that I did not understand.

Naturally, the kicker RCTI 21 drew a great response but I can’t help feel that it was all a bit too perfect. Personally, I would have preferred that the numbers form something like RCTI 23; then Joe tears the prediction of the last number to form the number ‘1’. That would be just as strong and make the routine even more believable.

The audience really loved Joe and even though the routine was long, gave a great ovation for the payoff.

Omar Pasha

What more can be said about this act? It is an act honed over more years than I’ve been around (even if that is not true, it should be very close) and the act has basically stood the test of time.

The Omar Pasha character is a legend as a specialist in the black art. He takes the black art technique to the extreme and creates the most visual magic that is only possible using black art. While you might be aware of the environment that aids the illusion, you cannot not be amazed at the visual illusions created.

Speaking with Omar Pasha’s son, Louie, we understand that his family has the exclusive rights for this act and character. I first watched his act on video in 1995. It was a thrill to see the same act live and see that it looked as good, if not better live that on TV. Ning loved this act as it made her a child again.

The effects and illusions in the act can only be achieved through black art and no one uses it as extensively as Omar Pasha. Ning said it best: “We are telling you how we are doing this – black art. Yet, we will still do it and amaze you!”

I just found a video of the act on YouTube. This was from the late 1980s (John Fisher’s Best of Magic series) and the act is EXACTLY the same… move for move.

This was a fantastic theatrical and artistic act that could have closed the show. 

Limbad

Limbad is crazy! And I’m not being rude. I’m merely stating the fact and I’m sure he will consider it a compliment. Like an old school professional wrestler, Lmbad does not break kayfabe and lives his gimmick on and off stage. He is a cross between Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow character from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and Mick Foley’s original “Mankind” character back in the WWF Attitude era.

Good vs Evil with the Red Queen in the Middle.
You don’t want to meet him in a dark alley… the guy in black, not the guy in white.

Billed as a “Master of Fahkir”, Limbad performs what is known in the trade as bizarre magic which includes human physical stunts. However, because of his character, he comes across as the real deal to a lot of Indonesians. Come on, the man owns an owl and a black horse. Talk about a mythical image. How many magicians own an owl… beside Harry Potter?

Living up to his image, Limbad performed a variety of bizarre magic act outdoors, outside of the stadium that we were filming in. Among other things, he rolled around in broken glass, broke a steel pole with his hands, walked on the edges of swords and allowed himself to get whipped with a flaming whip. Locally, we would basically call it a “Thaipusam” performance.

It was a very elaborate performance with lots of supporting talent and crew to make it look good. Being set outdoors also gave it a realism and a different feel from the rest of the performers on the show. However, I did feel that it went on for a little long.

Overall Comments

I think the content of the show was solid but some acts and transitions could have been tightened up. But I also understand that it is catered to Indonesian tastes, TV viewing habits and expectations. For example, their standard commercial break within shows is 8min long.

I also observed two common characteristics of the Indonesian magicians, which I’m sure is a result of catering to the local market. One, they all do mentalism or have a strong mentalism slant in their acts. Two, their routines play very long and the pacing of the routines tend to feel long (to me). For example, a typical routine for them would be 12min long. A typical routine for Ning & myself would be 3 – 4min. Anything longer would be considered long and would need good justification to be that duration.

This is just an objective observation and not a criticism as a performer is always catering to their audience. But if you look across the board for the show; each of the of the international acts did 3 – 4 routines in their 8min timeslot. (Omar Pasha did way more effects in his 6min black art act). In comparison, each of the Indonesian magicians did just one routine in a 15min timeslot.

One thing that I think many can learn from the Indonesian magicians is how they each create a unique character for themselves and really play that character as long as they are in the public eye. For example, for all the international performers, we are quite different off stage but the Indonesians really keep in character. This keeps the mystique of their characters and creates intrigue and an aura of mystery. Of course, part of the reason is the culture in Indonesia. More than a few people believe that they are real magicians who have unique powers.

But, this also shows that the Indonesian magicians really understand how to play to their audiences and get maximum mileage. The four Indonesian magicians are big celebrities in their country with endorsement deals and tons of media interest. People know them off the streets and magic is seen as a mainstream entertainment form in the country. How many can say that?

Kudos must also be given to RCTI, the TV network, who capitalized and knew how to promote the magicians and the craft to the masses. From the TV shows, to the opportunities given to the magicians to the content development, RCTI is doing good for magic in general.

I think the international magicians were all really good, each specializing in their individuals genres and styles of magic/ illusion. I’m glad Ning & I had the chance to showcase our brand of magic and a high level of illusion to the Indonesian audience. A big part of the credit must once again go to the producers of the show for choosing the right international acts that would fit this particular show and be able to deliver on live TV. (Yes, I’m sucking up to them so we get to go back to Jakarta 🙂 )

RCTI management and creative team members, Rudy & Fabian Dharmawan. A great team to work with!

I look forward to watching the actual footage from the show and hope that we go back to Jakarta soon for another run! 🙂

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About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
This entry was posted in Behind The Scenes, Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to My Personal Review of “Duel Mahakarya Magician”

  1. Throwdini says:

    Hello J C..
    Your analysis of DM was fantastic to read. I’m curious if you’re considering doing the same for Mahakary Magician on Dec 14. As a foreign performer in your country I’m curious about your take on the new format that included variety artists vs conventional magicians. What I do as a knife thrower has been referred to as “not magic but magical.”
    Best,
    David aka Throwdini

    • jcsum says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks for the reply. First, I’m not from Indonesia. I’m from Singapore. Ning & I were guest performers like yourself for that show in Aug. I do not have access to Indonesian TV so can’t comment on the show. My review was for DM was also based on the fact that we were involved with the show.

      From our fans in Indonesia, I was aware of the “sequel” and knew you were performing on it I have not watched anyone’s performance yet though. I did find it “interesting” that variety artists could be “matched up” against magicians. But, at the end of the day, it is a strategic promotional tool for the Indonesan magicians and respect that. The network just have to be careful not to overdo it to retain credibility.

      Thanks again.

      J C

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