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Wayne Kawamoto

Review: "Behind the Illusions" by JC Sum & "Magic Babe" Ning

By July 6, 2011

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It's not often that an artist releases a DVD that provides information on performing large-scale illusions. The last one that I recall was the Pendragon's excellent "Magic of the Pendragons by Charlotte and Jonathan Pendragon." This time, it's JC Sum & 'Magic Babe' Ning. Indeed, the charismatic pair, who are based in Singapore, have a flashy style and have made a name for themselves in the magic community worldwide. And they know a lot of about performing and presenting illusions.

This DVD offers their approach to performing ten illusions, which includes well known classics such as "Metamorphosis," "Crystal Casket," Smoke Chamber and Steinmeyer's "Modern Art." An excellent segment on the second disc offers insight into Sum and Ning's "The Aerial Exit" illusion, a large-scale publicity stunt where the pair vanished five people who were standing on a platform 24-feet in the air.

First off, this two-disc DVD set does not teach or show you how to design and build large scale illusions, but there discussions about props that JC Sum has designed as well as modified. When it comes to formal design, Sum often asks you to refer to his book, "Urban Illusions" and more. Other times, as in the case of commercially available props, Sum does not explain the workings, but only his approach to performing them.

For each illusion, you get to view a performance by Sum and Ning, many in front of live audiences. This is followed by a discussion about various aspects of the illusion and performing it, which can include: design elements and modifications, staging, music, choreography, lighting, working with crews and more. After this, Sum provides insightful commentary as you watch the performance video once more. In all, Sum touches on lots of topics and provides a good introductory education into illusions. Best of all, this DVD is lots of fun to watch.

Something missing that was a highlight of the Pendragon DVD set are segments that show you what the performers are accomplishing behind the curtains and shrouds. In the case of the "Crystal Metamorphosis," Sum's "see through" metamorphosis, for example, I think that it would have been helpful to view the hidden actions.

I admit that my knowledge of illusion design and performance is limited, but with this DVD I not only learned a lot about illusions, but gained a newfound admiration for the amazing skills of illusionists such as Sum and Ning. They make this stuff look easy when it's clearly not.

This DVD is a valuable teaching tool that nicely augments the information that you'll find in illusion books. If you've been wanting to learn about the real work and magic behind the big boxes, I think that most can learn something here.

More Reading:
Review: Magic of the Pendragons by Charlotte and Jonathan Pendragon
Illusion Review: Andrew Mayne's Razorwire (Plans)
Review: Andrew Mayne's Light Storm (Plans)


October 4, 2011 at 6:56 am
(1) Levantino says:

It is nice to see a DVD and accompanying publication with suggestions to broaden the art of illusion by stimulating the artists ability to ‘think outside of the box’.

The main question in the audience minds regarding ‘box’ illusions is ‘Where is the lady hiding?’

One man who definitely ‘thinks outside of the box’ is Paul Daniels (Over seventy and still touring the UK). Here he is with his wife ‘The lovely Debbie Magee’. Enjoy!


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