Taiwanese magician Lu Chen has become hugely popular by enchanting millions of television viewers in China with a mix of classic illusions and modern trickery.
China's vast showbiz market is the focus of a growing number of Taiwanese entertainers hoping to take their name recognition and money-making potential to a whole new level -- and Lu has charmed his way onto the charts.
AdvertisementHe ranks 13th on the list of Chinese celebrities produced by Forbes magazine, which also lists him as the seventh most searched for on the Internet and puts his annual income at 43 million yuan (6.3 million US dollars).
Lu's big break came in 2009 when he joined the elite list of entertainers to appear on China's most-watched programme -- the Lunar New Year evening show, which boasts a billion viewers.
"For many performers it's a top honour and a life-long goal to get on the show," Lu told AFP after performing recently in Taipei. "I didn't expect my chance to come so fast."
His eight-minute gig was voted one of the most popular segments of the show, ensuring a spot for the following year while bringing him lucrative performing and endorsement deals.
Lu, slim and eloquent, attributed his success to giving a modern look to his profession, a relatively overlooked area in Chinese-language entertainment.
"In China there is a stereotype that a magician must either wear a tuxedo to pull rabbits from a hat or don a long Chinese robe to produce a goldfish tank out of thin air. They perform in silence over classical music," he says.
In contrast, Lu talks to the audience and uses common items that can be seen everywhere every day so that "the impact of the magic trick is stronger," he said.
One of his popular close-up tricks is to appear to put a ring which he borrows from a member of the audience into an egg, which he then breaks to take it out. Lu said the illusion is his original idea and the result of three years of work.
Since last year, Lu has staged over 50 shows in China and other countries, also performing classic illusions such as escaping after being chained and locked in a box, or 'levitating' members of the audience.
It has been a dream come true for a boy who fell in love with magic at first sight.
"I saw a coin trick at a department store when I was seven years old and I thought it was fascinating. I couldn't help thinking about it every day and wondering how it was done."
Lu went on to win a young magicians' championship five years later in Taiwan, receiving the trophy from his idol, American illusionist David Copperfield, who was hugely popular on the island in his heyday in the 1980s and 1990s.
While the award encouraged him to continue studying magic, Lu admitted he had doubts about earning a living as a magician as "it's not a normal steady job".
"But I decided to give it a try because I liked entertaining myself and others. Besides, I didn't want to be stuck in a boring office job."
However, Lu's speedy rise to fame in China has its costs, as he is constantly forced to fend off criticism from viewers who claim to have cracked his tricks or fellow magicians who challenge his skills, he said.
Even his appearance on a Japanese variety show sparked a controversy in China, where anti-Japan sentiment remains strong over Japanese wartime aggression.
"Some people think magicians are all liars and magic is trickery so they get disappointed and angry, but this is not the right attitude for watching a magic performance," Lu said.
"Magic is about creating a dream world and realising people's desires, such as being able to make people fly or predict future events... Magic is about surprising the audience and making them laugh."
Lu is now also planning to take his talents in a new direction and open a magic school in Beijing in addition to performing.
"Magic is also an art of talking so it will help people be more successful at their jobs by enhancing their speech and communication skills. It can even help young men court girlfriends," he said.
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