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Lu's magical mysteries

The youthful Taiwanese illusionist, Lu Chen, has created a wave of awe among millions of viewers on the mainland with his inexplicable, close-up, sleight-of-hand magic tricks. Xu Wei delves into the mind of the master conjurer, looking for clues to the mesmerising showmanship he brings to his magic.

When talk turns to the most incredible performance at the 2009 CCTV (China Central Television) Spring Festival gala, many people would vote for the eight-minute, mind-blowing performance by Taiwan magician Lu Chen, also known as Louis Liu.

During the show, the young magician managed to drop a coin into a small glass inside a bigger glass turned upside down. Then, under the watchful eyes of both the studio audience and cameras, Lu conjured a finger ring out of an intact egg.

Tens of thousands of viewers were dazzled by his showmanship and mesmerized by his trademark fixed line: "Now is the moment to witness a miracle.?

"A lot of Chinese people used to consider a magician a 'superman?who wore coattails and a high black hat on stage. Magic was a complicated and weird art form,?said the 33-year-old Lu.

"I think these stereotypes are going away. Magic can be very true-to-life and a good conjurer can put on a very realistic performance right in front of you.?

The props he uses are all regular things from daily life and the scenes set for his magic are nothing special.

Lu is well-known for his close-up magic shows, including card play and coin tricks. Different from other magic genres like Illusion and Mentalism, close-up magic is usually performed, well, close to the audience.

In that sense, it requires a high degree of proficiency in basic skills, such as finger movements and sleight of hand, as there is less space and time for magicians to hide their "secrets.?

Lu was recently invited to the Shanghai Dragon TV's talk show "Special Memory,?where he performed a few more marvelous tricks, including one involving putting a ring into his mouth and "swallowing?it, then another in which he moved cards on the floor with his power of "thought.?

Though the audience is always amazed at the mystery and delighted by the charisma of his magic shows, Lu notes that magic is a comprehensive and scientific visual art, which covers the principles of physics, chemistry, optics, acoustics, mathematics and psychology.

So how do the tricks work?

After the success of his performance on the CCTV Spring Festival show, many Netizens have been trying to explain the secrets behind his magic tricks. Some believe that his props are specially made and his fingers move swifter than the eye due to plenty of practice.

"So far, nobody has given the exact explanation,?Lu said with a grin. "Actually language plays an important role in my shows. It is an effective tool to mislead and distract my audience so that they can hardly notice my little maneuvers, even the movement of one finger.?

Lu notes that the talking skills of a magician are akin to those used in pursuit of a girl or by a super salesman. A good magician can read people's thoughts and is adept at creating the right atmosphere.

The young man's affinity with magic began when he was only seven years old. Lu found himself attracted to a magic toy in a shop. From then on, his interest was kindled.

He found fame at the age of 12, when he won the Youth Magic Contest in Taiwan, judged by renowned master magician and showman David Copperfield. But despite his obvious talent, Lu never planned to be a professional magician. He studied Japanese in Taiwan's Soochow University, hoping to find a corporate job to support part-time performing as an amateur magician.

However, his failure to find a satisfactory job after graduation pushed him toward magic as a career, encouraged by parents who ignored prejudices against it as unstable and meaningless work.

Lu quickly distinguished himself in many competitions, taking first place in the international World Magic Seminar Asia in 2003. Two years later he won the Neil Foster/Bill Baird Award for Excellence in Manipulation presented by Chavez College of Magic, one of the highest honors in the field.

Over recent years, Lu has done shows in Las Vegas and Hollywood, two of the most lucrative performance centers in the United States. He has done shows elsewhere, including Japan, South Korea and Britain.

Unlike many magicians, Lu isn't content with achieving success only on stage. From 2001 to 2004, he hosted a TV program named "Magic Star.?His humorous performance quickly made the show one of the most popular and discussed programs.

"It was a very special and rewarding experience for me,?Lu recalled. "The live street shows for pedestrians, policemen and migrant workers offered me great chances to interact with all kinds of people, and some of them were tough and smart. Moreover, I refined my capabilities to cope with myriad changes and unexpected situations.?

Whenever he develops a new magic trick or technique, Lu works it through in a good planning and discussion session with his team. They will work out how to design the trick in the most creative way and make it more intriguing.

Lu's performance on the Spring Festival gala has sparked a renewed interest among youngsters to learn the mysteries of magic. It has also brought him celebrity apprentices such as Taiwan singer Jay Chou and Hong Kong actor/singer Andy Lau.

Lu is optimistic about the future of the age-old art form, adding that young people's enthusiasm about magic will be aroused, particularly, by close-up magic as audiences get close to the magician to participate in shows and see the detail of tricks.

Though Lu appears quite talkative and outgoing on the screen, he dubs himself a quiet, family-oriented person. Movies and Internet surfing are his favorite pastime and after work he seldom stirs out of the house. Shopping on the Internet has become commonplace in his life.

"Now I'm engaged in preparing for my first show tour on the mainland starting from May,?Lu added. "The next two months will be very important for me to keep my composure while under the influence of my overnight fame on the mainland.


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