Friday, November 23, 2012

The Bygone Pasar Malam Magic

My friend Mr. Ong asked me about the below question:


“Do you think the street magician’s trick of cutting and joining a boy’s head is real?”


It was about 20 or 30 years ago, for the Malaysian folks who are frequent pasar malam (night market) goers, must be able to remember of some street magicians performing tricks such as that of wrapping a boy’s body with cloth then follow by chopping off the boy’s head with a machete. After that the magician will go around the viewers to tell them cock and bull story and beg for donation. He would not join back the boy’s head until certain amount is met. As Malaysians are very generous people, the magicians seldom disappointed. I have not seen such a magic show for quite a long time, I heard that the government has put a ban on this type of street show as it is said to give negative influences to the general public.


Apparently street magician used “trick machete” to chop down the boy’s head. This type of magic is already overly exposed now-a-days. It is no harm to the existing magicians’ future performance if I expose this trick a little more. After all, I am not the first person to expose this type of trick. The “Collected Works Of Goose Illusion”(鵞幻彙編) written in Ching Dynasty has recorded many tricks especially the Mao Shan’s Zhuyou magic (祝由科).


Actually these types of magical performances, including incantations are just tricks. The secret is in the knife, or rather knives. A magician will use two knives. One is real sharp knife; the other is a “trick knife”. You can actually purchase this type of trick knife in a magic prop shop or eBay. As how to swap the knives around, different masters have different methods; but the principle is the same.

First, a magician will use the real sharp knife to cut a piece cucumber, just to let the audience know that the knife is real and indeed sharp; then he will swap the real knife with the “trick knife” to slit the throat of the boy. (But seriously, don’t try it in your home even though this is a trick in case you forgot which knife is which.)

The construction of the trick knife is pretty simple: there is a half gap in the middle part, while the other half is a mezzanine gap replaced by a piece of blunt iron plate. The iron plate will retract into the mezzanine on the slightest pressure and this is indeed ingenious way of amazing the audience.


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