Magic goes digital

Jin Hyo-beom, a professional magician based in Gwangju, was tired of doing the same old magic tricks on stage.

But the 30-year-old illusionist had an idea ― magic tricks for digital devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs.

The iPhone and iPad have become the main tools for Jin’s acts on stage. With the gadgets, he can conjure up pretty much everything from a cup of coffee to a bunch of roses. People love the idea of turning the same IT products in their hands into magic instruments, Jin said.

“People were surprised to see that their IT devices can do magic and wanted to learn the tricks behind it,” Jin, one of the leading figures in media magic, told The Korea Herald.

Jin doesn’t just want to share his world of media magic with people on stage. He has developed smartphone apps for people wanting to do simple magic tricks with their friends.

“People can do small but surprising tricks by using iPhone’s innovative functions such as the microphone, touch screen and gravity sensor,” he said.

Last year, Jin even launched an app-developing company to increase interest in magic.

The magician developed six apps including popular “Into the Phones” and “Magic School.” Magic School, which provides a series of video lessons, was a hit. The paid app now has around 30,000 subscribers in Korea.

The methods behind magic are no longer always a secret thanks to multimedia and a growing internet market.

There are hundreds of apps and websites that offer video-lessons, helping people learn tricks by themselves.

“I hope people become more familiar with magic and learn more magic skills without having to go to magic classes. I also hope people to have the courage do something special in front of their friends simply with IT devices,” Jin said.

The country’s IT giants and telecom companies are also using magic’s “wow factor” to sell their products. Early this year, Samsung Electronics employed David Copperfield to advertize its Smart TV series.

“The new Smart TV now has state-of-the-art technology like gesture recognition software that lets people reduce volume or change channels without using the remote control. The TV also recognizes the human voice so that people can turn off the TV by simply saying the word, just like magic,” a PR official at Samsung Electronics said.

LG Telecom named its 3G service “Oz,” an obvious reference to “The Wizard of Oz,” and SK Telecom carried out a nationwide campaign to boost its corporate image with “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” from the film “Cinderella.”

Observers say that companies are using magic because it is an easy way to convey complicated technological development.

“Many people would never understand the principles behind these technological developments appearing almost every day. Companies just label it as ‘magic,’” Kang Hyeong-dong, professor of the magic department at Donga Injae University in Yeongam, South Jeolla Province. The university is the first in the world to establish a magic department to nurture professional magicians.

Magic also saw renewed popularity here when Choi Hyun-woo, one of Korea’s top magicians, appeared on a number of programs produced by a new cable channel. Choi currently hosts “Magic Hole” featuring celebrities and magicians from all over the world.

“This is the first regular TV program about magic in Korea. For the audience, the program will give the impression that magic is no longer entertainment only for holidays or special days; that it can be a part of your lives,” Choi said in a telephone interview.

K-pop stars have latched onto magic as well. Girls’ Generation had a hit with “Tell Me Your Wish” in 2009 while Brown Eyed Girls released “Abracadabra.”

“Magic itself makes the impossible possible. I think that many people, particularly in this difficult economic situation, are mesmerized with magic, believing that things will get better like magic,” Kang said.

Fantasy films like “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” have also played their part in attracting people to magic.

“Korean magicians began to get the spotlight from international events with their distinctive manipulation skills or incomparably fast hand-tricks,” professor Kang said.

But magic acts based on human skill and physics have long been an art form in Europe. And magicians in Korea are putting efforts into developing their performances into art.

“If not, Korean artists would be replaced by hard-working magicians in Thailand and China,” Kang said.

What makes Korean magic unique is that it has collaborated with education programs.

Teachers and medical doctors started to learn magic for teaching students and treating patients from 2006, Kang said. EBS, the country’s educational broadcaster, also airs a show called “Magic English,” featuring native speakers teaching English with magic tricks.

Some teachers established a club so that they could learn magic together. The National Association of Magic Learning Teachers currently has about 2,400 members across the country. The club, recognized by the Education Ministry, offers a series of online magic classes for teachers trying to keep the attention of students during classes, according to reports.

Magicians admit that there is nothing supernatural about what they do. But the “magic” is about giving people a taste of having their dreams come true.

“Koreans, in particular, are trying to discover the secrets behind magic tricks,” star magician Choi said.

“Maybe everyone knows that magic is just an illusion, but I want to give people a moment to seek dreams and fantasy and get out of reality during the show”

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