Do you believe in magic? If you don't, don't tell that to JC Sum because he not only believes in it, he lives it.
JC is one of THE most celebrated magicians in Asia. Like any kid interested in magic, he started by watching magic shows on TV, at parties and even in shopping malls. That evolved to playing with magic sets, learning from books, joining a magic club and even performing at age 12.
The 30-year-old self-taught magician performed little tricks at first, like card tricks at kid's parties and birthday parties, before progressing to his first professional show at age 16.
"From there I moved on to what we call close up magic, which is now known as street magic. That's magic in close proximity of the audience. I did all the major hotels basically, table-to-table at the restaurants," recalls JC. "Then I did what we call a stand-up show which is on stage by the solo performer, a one man show. Then the show got bigger to what we call an illusion show, it's the biggest show, where you might vanish or cut someone in half. That's the level of the show that I'm doing today."
Come Aug 18, JC will attempt his most challenging illusion to date. Called 'The Impossible Teleportation', it's the first ever mega illusion in Southeast Asia.
A mega illusion is defined as "a large-scale illusion spectacle that involves a large or iconic object and/ or covers a large area or distance". Most importantly, it is performed for a live audience - just think David Copperfield's "Walking Through the Great Wall of China" and "The Vanishing Statue of Liberty".
'The Impossible Teleportation' involves JC teleporting himself from street level - surrounded by thousands of spectators - and reappearing on the roof of a skyscraper 50 floors above, an illusion that took him 5 to 10 years to develop and perfect.
Going from simple card tricks to mega illusionist of course doesn't just happen by, well... magic. As JC remembers: "When I first started magic and really developing my basic skills, what we call fundamental conjuring skills - sleight of hand technique, and understanding the magic - I'll say I was practicing at least four hours a day, solid. And this was just the manual skills. You definitely have to put in the hours, and to get a good basic degree of skills, it'll take you about two years, of four hours a day, to get a really solid foundation."
He likens it to learning to play a piano. "The same foundation will need to be put in place. Subsequently, you'll have to work on the presentation and the psychology of the magic, and understand how it should be packaged as a complete theatrical performance. It's not just about the technique. You have to think of many aspects - showmanship, how would you produce the show, pace the show, put in the lights, working with different people to really make it a performance, make it an experience for the audience," he adds.
Also known as 'The Thinking Man's Magician', JC represents a new breed of world-class illusionists and is widely regarded as one of the very top professional illusionists from Asia. To keep developing new ideas for new shows, he looks to other magicians for inspiration, and even watches their performances.
He also reads up professional magic books and studies different artistic forms like plays, musicals and movies. "Sometimes you try to think of the ultimate magical effect, and you try to develop a method. Sometimes you come up with a method first, then you try to think of presentation or story to then present that particular illusion method," he explains.
His childhood hero? Who else but the grand master of all illusions - David Copperfield himself, though JC would not go so far as to call himself the David Copperfield of Singapore. "He was THE magician, and he has really set the standard for magicians across the world," he says respectfully.
So how did such a non-mainstream career sit with his parents? "I didn't really tell them," JC admits. "I just got into it, and as I grew more serious about the art and developed it as a business, I think they then saw it was a viable career."
But just in case the magic stops working, JC has a back up plan- the NUS graduate earned his Arts degree as full time student, while being a full time magician at the same time. I guess only an illusionist can achieve that!
It's highly unlikely he'll ever give up his magical life though.
As he says: "I think being a magician is fantastic because it allows me to draw on an art which can do everything any art can do, but besides that it can amaze people. All arts can inspire, can create awe, can evoke emotion, but only magic creates amazement and astonishment in a spectator, so that's a very singular, unique experience... I'm in the business of anything is possible so I've always believed that anything is possible."