News agencies around the world reported on a large scale magic show that was staged in North Korea as a highlight in a week of festivities surrounding Kim Il Sung’s April 15 birthday.
The state sponsored show, according to advertisement featured: “aircraft and a large bus appearing and then suddenly disappearing, elephants and other heavy animals appearing mysteriously, a motorcyclist performing fantastic skills, magicians floating in the air as if in a gravity-free space.”
Even with my fairly deep knowledge of magicians in Asia and the world, I have to admit I have never heard of the magician, Ri Thai Gum, who fronted the show.
You can read the original Reuters article by Jean H. Lee here. Watch the story filed by the Associate Press below:
Not surprisingly, being one of the most repressed states in the world, we have no mainstream news of North Korea, let alone their magic scene. It is interesting to see what techniques and methodologies were adopted in this show.
Judging by a screen capture of their elephant illusion below, I can make an educated guess that it is an elephant vanish with a similar method used to vanish an elephant employed by magicians around the world.
The set-up of the method is fairly modern and the lighting arrangement behind the platform/ framework that the elephant will be led to has thought put into it. For those not familiar with this illusion, which is a modern day version of what Houdini did; the elephant will be led up the ramp into the open-framed cabinet. Curtains will drop down on all sides and later be dropped to the platform floor to show that the elephant has vanished even though the audience can see behind and below the platform at all times.
What I cannot tell is how well executed or how sophisticated the technology used is. I can’t tell if the elephant is covered by the curtains for 3 seconds or 3 mins. But seeing how they have apparantly have state of the art staging facilities like Cirque du Soliel’s “O” show in Vegas or previously Siegfried & Roy’s show at the Mirage, then I think it can be assumed the vanish was quick.
Based on the reports and descriptions of the acts, the illusions seem to have current plots and utilize “cool” objects like helicopters and buses. Hey, we vanished a 40-seater bus as the mega illusion finale for our upcoming 3D TV show, although I’m 100% sure our illusionary methods are completely different.
What I do find interesting is that an audience of 150,000, and possibly more if it was televised, of North Koreas (who are living in a closed and repressed society) have been exposed to modern magic that one might see from illusionists in more liberated countries.
(Good) Magic, as entertainment, is the creation of moments of astonishments (or Art of Astonishmet as coined by Paul Harris) and gives audience optimistic amazement that suggests that anything in possible, no matter how improbable. In the best cases, good magic inspires and can have a lasting effect on an individual’s outlook or even sense of being. But, how would a North Korean audience react to such a show?
I understand the show included escape illusion acts which modern day escape arts use as a metaphor for breaking free from life’s restraints and obstacles. Will North Koreans be inspired to be like Houdini and perform the ultimate escape act of defacting?
Moving away from social commentary, I also think it is interesting to note the prominence of magic from Asia and the rise of Asian magicians in the world magic community. Being in Singapore, I find myself in the epi-centre of this rise with strong magic influences from the West but being in the middle of an Asia magic boom, so to speak.
For years, Asians, particularly the Japanese and Koreans, have been known just within the small die-hard magic community due to their excellence in magic competitions and conventions. However, mainstream media-wise or to the casual magic fan, no Asian magician had made global or regional prominence… until recently, in the last 5 + years or so.
Taiwanese magician, Lu Chen is the biggest magic phenomena, who is probabably the most recognized magician in the world (you have to consider absolute numbers with China’s 1.4 billion population and growing).
Cyril Takayama is the most “viral” Internet magician from Asia due to his incredible routining, effects and innovative presentations. Cyril’s strong influence of street magic style, effect and presentation can clearly be seen in a lot of magicians’ work including Criss Angel’s “Mindfreak” TV shows, who the general worldwide mainstream audience might consider the current face of magic.
‘Magic Babe’ Ning has brought glamour and redefined the modern Asian female magician. She and some guy she works with have also reintroduced live mega illusions in the current trend of Internet and TV magic. (Side note: Video editing is not considered a legitimate magic technique)
FISM general magic and manipulation categories continued to be dominated by Asians in recent years such as Lee Eun Gyeol, An Ha Lim and Han Seol Hui.
India has recently had a huge boost in modern magic, largely in part to the hugely successful “India’s Magic Star” and significant contributions by Franz Harary to that show. You should check out the winner of “India’s Magic Star”, Mumbai-based Tejas Malode. He does some very good magic and not what you might expect from an Indian magician. You have never heard of him? Well, a large percentage of the 2nd most populated country in the world does.
Now, with state sponsored illusion shows in North Korea. Could this be the continued rise in prominence for magic from Asia?