Story by: Wilfred Lee, Photos by: Colin Dabbs
Born and raised in the U.S., Yu Da Kim has been student of magic since his first exposure at age 5. He also performs in local comedy shows in Korea to spread the joy of magic. Artist’s Journey’s Wilfred Lee sat down with Yu Da to discuss the power of magic, the joy of wonder, and the unique perspectives that it entails.
Artist’s Journey: What was your first exposure to magic?
Yu Da Kim: A childhood prank exposed me to magic. As a 5-year-old boy in day care, a friend of mine showed me a fake ice cream cone and said it was real. I never saw one before, so I took a closer look. My friend pushed a hidden trigger button, which made the foam ball (the ice cream part) spring out and hit me in the face. The ball was connected to a string for easy reload, and we were ready to trick the next victim. The hidden design and the mechanics were intriguing and a first for me.
What inspired you to get into magic?
The very friend who tricked me when I was young became a professional magician for several years before settling down as a professional photographer. I’ll never forget the time he spent all his money, $3, to buy me a toy when we were kids. I still have that very same toy! After our day care days, we went to different elementary schools and lost touch. During my last semester of high school, my sister’s best friend was getting married. The groom turned out to be my childhood friend, and later I found out that he was a magician. He took me in as an apprentice and pushed the limits of my creativity.
What is your definition of magic?
I’ve grown to understand magic as an adjective. It’s nothing on its own, but it exemplifies something else – in most cases an amusing experience, or new or positive feeling. The props of magic are not necessarily magical.
Alone, the magician can’t make magic. It takes a connection between a performer and viewer to experience magic. If that connection fails, then there’s no reason to consider it magical.
Like a cake, magic can be created only if the ingredients fit the recipe and the conditions are just right. And if itís not magic, people are quick to tell you otherwise. By listening to the audience, everything magicians need to know about what magic is and what it isn’t can be learned.
How has magic affected the way you perceive the world?
The world I see relies on different perspectives. Magic holds valuable lessons on sympathy, understanding of timing, knowing one’s physical and mental limits, and how to connect with people in unique and different ways. I use concepts and quotes as useful tools in the real world.
Here’s an example: Imagine yourself as Batman. Now imagine any situation – Batman has a tool for it (grappling hook, boomerang, night vision, gas mask, lock picks, handcuffs, etc). Magicians must study, practice and consider the various details to create certain outcomes. As a magician, we have mentalist tools, sleight of hand techniques, gimmicks, showmanship strategies, etc. Like Batman, we have perspectives, gadgets and techniques that cater to nearly any situation, limited only to our imagination. Magic has introduced me to some of the most creative thinkers in the world. Sharing their vision helped me open and broaden my view of the world.
How has being in Korea affected your magic?
Since childhood, magic has always been a confidence issue for me. My confidence has grown since coming to Korea, and I donít need to flash my magic to feel special or to get attention. So my magic style has become more subtle and connects to my own personality and experiences.
In the beginning, I was always in a hurry to show the next trick. Nowadays, I’m okay with just showing one trick and sharing a story. People often remember the story, and how they felt at the time, more than the details of the trick.
Is there any difference between “Korean/Asian” magic and “Western” magic?
Sure. There are many different philosophies with magic in general. Indeed, magic encompasses a very wide range of fields. In the public eye, magic seems more of a trend. Each magician is trying to find the next biggest and brightest idea.
In Korea, there is a lot more competition with far fewer chances of success, so Korean magicians usually strive for perfection in technique, control and appearance. You’ll be hard pressed to find a single hair out of place when seeing a Korean magician perform.
Western magicians see it more as a business. They’re sticking their necks out to make a living doing magic. So Western magicians tend to take more dangerous risks or choose tricks with a greater chance of failure. The audience can sense the nervousness when they realize a million things could go wrong in a magic act. “Go big or go home” is a famous motto used in the States. Western magicians tend to use more live animals (tigers, elephants, etc.) and real props (guns, knives, fire, etc.).
Even though Europe, China, Japan, South America and India hold heavy influence over the magic community, the U.S. is world-famous. And there is no better place in the world to see a big production. But if a magic lover wants the absolute best experience, you’ll get your money’s worth watching a professional close-up magician (anywhere in the world) over any stage magician.
What is the Korean magician community like?
Korea culturally has a genealogical and communal identity. Magicians in Korea often perform together and share ideas. I’ve found Korean magicians very inviting to new members. Many Korean magicians work on similar tricks. Their personalities come out in their different interpretations of the same trick, creating a large pool of variations for the same effect. It’s a great community to talk to all day and all night about the details of a trick or effect.
What do you see for the future of magic?
The classical effects of magic are ubiquitous. Almost every kid knows the thumb trick (the one your dad showed you as a kid). All the stories of magic have been told. I imagine the innovations coming from the combinations of other disciplines with the art of magic. For example, Marco Tempest is famous for combining his love of magic with open-source technology. Even with the use of the latest technologies, itís always about the story.
Magic will always be about human nature. It must be something the audience can learn from and relate to, otherwise it wouldn’t have that magical appeal. The future of magic is guaranteed to excite and amaze people in meaningful ways. Who wouldn’t like to have X-Men superpowers (read minds, walk through walls, etc.)? Our valued fantasies are the future for magic.