IT was never always a bed of roses. And success certainly didn’t come easy for Zlwin Chew, one of the country’s top magicians who dropped out of school to pursue his dream of becoming a professional magician.
However, he paid his dues working small gigs until he landed residency at one of the nation’s top clubs.
That engagement allowed him to make many new contacts, which eventually led to his stints on cruise ships. Again, starting small he worked his way up to becoming a headliner act with large-scale stage props from Las Vegas.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Chew continues to improve his act and shows no sign of slowing down. He does, however, envision a time when he’ll focus less on performing and spend more time on training up new talent. But for now, he’s having the time of his life bringing joy and wonder to his audiences.
HOW DID YOU LEARN MAGIC?
I started by learning simple card tricks from YouTube videos. I’d perform these simple tricks for my friends and they’d be so amazed. This, in turn, gave me a sense of how impactful magic could be.
From YouTube, I moved on to books and DVDs to further my study of magic. There’s no such thing as a school of magic or institution you can attend. A lot of it is self-taught. Later, as I got to know other magicians, there was some sharing of knowledge as well.
WHAT WAS YOUR PARENTS’ REACTION WHEN YOU FIRST TOLD THEM YOU WANTED TO BECOME A PROFESSIONAL MAGICIAN?
I was halfway through my university course at the time. I was spending a lot of time perfecting my craft and as a result, my grades weren’t that good. My parents were naturally concerned and asked me to quit magic. They said I could always pick it up again after I graduated. But I was confident of my abilities and believed I could make a living as a magician.
After some lengthy discussions with my parents, I got their blessings. The very next day, I stopped going to classes. I didn’t even send a letter to the university. I just stopped showing up. Perhaps I’m still officially enrolled there!
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START AS A PROFESSIONAL MAGICIAN?
The magic industry — if you can call it that because there are so few of us — isn’t one where opportunities fall on your lap. You have to go and seek them out. I didn’t wait for someone to discover me. I went out and knocked on many doors. I started doing small shows — initially for house parties and later for events in colleges and universities.
My big break came when I became the resident magician at the Zouk Club in KL. There I met many influential people who ended up hiring me for their events. Soon enough, many people got to know about me.
You’ve got to get yourself out there and make a name for yourself. Nobody’s going to do it for you.
HOW ARE THE CHALLENGES LIKE THEN AND NOW?
The challenge back then was getting my name out there. It wasn’t easy because I started from scratch and nobody knew who I was.
Today, the challenge is how to continually improve my act so that people will continue to hire me. I have to show that my performance is constantly improving. It’s a beautiful challenge and one that keeps me alive.
WHAT’S THE TOUGHEST MAGIC TRICK YOU’VE EVER DONE?
The great Harry Houdini had an illusion called Metamorphosis where he’d switch places with another person locked in a box in a matter of seconds.
I do this act in my shows sometimes and we’ve had some injuries performing this. The trick itself is actually not complicated but what makes it tough is the speed that’s required for the switch to happen.
WHEN YOU SEE OTHER MAGICIANS DO THEIR MAGIC TRICKS, ARE YOU ABLE TO FIGURE OUT HOW THEY DID IT?
Magic is like learning to cook. Once you know everything about the cooking tools and methods, you’ll be able to cook up almost any dish you want. In magic, once you’ve studied enough and know the tricks of the trade, you’ll be able to figure out almost anything.
Magic is actually not “magic” but an application of science involving a mix of psychology, physics, chemistry and engineering.
WHAT’S THE BEST COMPLIMENT YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
I woke up one morning after Christmas and when I opened my Twitter account, I saw many messages congratulating me. I didn’t know for what until I noticed a Tweet that David Copperfield had posted. It read: “@ ZlwinChew, I watched your video. You’re very talented!” He also posted a link to that video.
I was over the moon and couldn’t stop smiling for a week. Talk about a magical feeling!
HOW DID YOU END UP PERFORMING ON CRUISES?
Performing on cruise ships has always been a dream for me. My first opportunity came in 2012 when I got contracted to do small shows for Star Cruises for two years. Those were really simple shows done out of my briefcase.
What I really wanted to do was large-scale illusion shows. So, I saved up money and eventually managed to buy my first set of illusion props from Las Vegas. In 2015, I was hired by the world’s number one cruise line, Royal Caribbean International. I’ve been performing my large-scale illusion shows on its ships since then.
HOW LONG DO YOU SEE YOURSELF DOING THIS?
I really enjoy performing on cruise ships. This was my ambition when I was an up-and-coming magician, so I’m literally holding a dream job right now. But I do have a desire to spend more time on land with my wife, family and friends.
I’m not sure how long this will go on but I do see myself eventually performing less on ships and spending more time on land and training up young magicians.
YOUR WIFE ALSO WORKED WITH YOU ON THE CRUISE SHOWS. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
I met Josephine in 2013 when she was working for an events company. She had contacted me about doing a show in the Maldives. We became friends, fell in love and she ended up joining my act on the Royal Caribbean cruises for about two years.
Today she’s land-based, running an events company. She has brought so much magic into my life and constantly inspires me to be a better magician and better person.
WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED ABOUT MAGIC?
Children see magic in every new thing they come across. They see magic in a simple toy or some playground activity. But as they grow up, they slowly lose that sense of awe and wonder. Perhaps that’s due to the everyday struggles of life such as going to school, studying for exams, finding work, paying for a house and a car.
An adult doesn’t find joy in little things. They have no sense of wonder. It’s really hard to impress an adult about anything but magic has the ability to do that. Magic can bring an adult back to the time when they were thrilled and amazed by what they see in front of them. I like re-igniting that joy in people.