I loved to watch Mondo Magic when they perform in the US.
But I don't know what happened to them when they performed in Singapore.
Mondo Magic Singapore - Not good so far
I'd like to offer my most sincere apologies to anyone who watched Mondo Magic Singapore on my recommendation. It was a mess. It was an insult to the art of magic.
When I heard sometime last October that Chris Korn and the mysteriously named (alas not so mysterious looking, he actually resembles Jerry O' Connell) JB Benn were coming to town to shoot some episodes of a street magic series, I was excited enough to look them up online. I read high praise from most quarters and believed that they were the real deal. Better than the over-gimmicked T.H.E.M., and possibly in the same post-Blaine category of inventive street magicians like Cyril Takayama. But Tuesday's first episode was anything but innovative.
I'll break it down from memory. The rest of this will be quite verbose and perhaps of more interest to magicians than laypeople.
Opening trick: JB Benn bent a coin surrounded by onlookers. Unspectacular, and a poor choice of opening effect.
It must be said that a lot of the problems I had with their performances stemmed from poor camerawork and direction. The crew has to be in on the secret. They have to know when to cut away, when to focus on the specs and when to focus on the magician's hands. The production crew for the Singapore special was probably a local agency roped in by AXN at the last minute.
They shot wide from a distance, framing Benn in the center as he tried to work what looked like a Boa coin bend with all the necessary misdirection. He came off as a nervous amateur because he had to take the camera into consideration as a spectator as well. The procedure of having the coin signed, then returned, misdirecting people nearby by having them come closer, then going back to the signer of the coin (he even forgot who had done it, in his excitement) and then revealing the coin bend - was frantically rushed. It was embarrassing to both the eyes of this magician and his layman partner.
This misdirection problem plagued the entire show.
Next, Chris Korn by the Merlion statue. He's holding a plastic water bottle, mostly empty. His left fist is closed. He is surrounded by about 3 female spectators.
I got excited at this point. Perhaps he was going to perform the Abyss? Did he have a coin in his left fist, that was going to be seen penetrating the plastic bottle? Or maybe he'd do a portion of Cyril Takayama's Instant Noodle effect, and fill the empty bottle with water from nowhere?
"Water... water means prosperity... right?" (looks to Chinese specs for confirmation. They look confused but nod anyway.)
He pours the little bit of water over his closed fist. He gets one of the girls to cup her hands. Perhaps I'm spoiled by Cyril's magic, but I expected to see Korn produce a [edited] of coins from his closed fist, like Cyril does in his version of Explosion. He did not. He opened his fist, and released about 5 small coins into the girl's hands.
THE FIST WAS NEVER SHOWN EMPTY.
We're all going [edited]?!? at this point, and not in the good way you'd hope for when watching magic.
This is followed by quick cuts of him performing variations of the trick to other specs, each time, the fist is shown closed, and then releasing a small number of coins.
Next, Benn does a somewhat cool trick on a beach for some girls in bikinis. A deck of cards has the word 'Singapore' written on one side (edges of the deck) 8 times. A card is selected (the ignorant girl calls it the "J of hearts") and returned to the deck. Benn struggles to do an in-the-hands faro shuffle. Embarrassing. After the shuffle, the number of 'Singapores' is reduced to 4. He does it again. 2 Singapores remain. Finally 1. The last time he does the faro, the words "Jack of Hearts" appears. Pretty cool, but the audience reaction is muted.
Benn goes somewhere else, talking about how he wants to perform magic that has never been seen in Singapore before. This is big talk from a man who can't even hide a coin bend and who later exposes a top change on camera. The local magicians I've met are awesome, and we get magic on TV here too, you know. More on this later.
He goes up to a couple and takes a 10 dollar bill from them. He does a standard bill switch and shows a 50. Words cannot describe how fidgety he looks while doing the bill switch. He's checking his angles constantly, and obviously, and looks around and behind him all the while. Then he changes it back.
He pulls a wad of 10 dollar bills from his pocket and performs Richard Sanders' Visi-Bill. Except he doesn't do the best part of it, the visual change. He simply displays 10 dollar bills, folds them, then opens them again to show 50s. The female spec grabs for them, and he takes evasive action, saying "they're not for you, they're mine." Then he hurriedly changes them back, and thanks them for their attention. Throughout the show, their presentations are lackluster and amateurish.
Chris Korn does a coin trick outside of the Heeren shopping center. He shows a Chinese coin (with the hole in it) and a regular coin. He refers to them throughout the effect as "Copper" and "Silver", which manages to confuse everyone within 10 feet. He puts both coins in a woman's hand and asks her to take one out. You know the drill by now. He puts it on top of her closed fist and waves his hands over and does what looks like a Raven or M5 switch. I couldn't tell, because the cameraman shot the crucial bit of action right at the bottom edge of the screen, and IT WAS OBSCURED BY SUBTITLES. I simply did not see the moment of the coin change. Absolutely infuriating, and a complete waste of a possibly cool effect.
I knew the cameraman was useless because Korn had to give him instructions before he did the switch, to prevent exposure. He called him to come over and shoot it over his shoulder, giving the excuse "now I'll show you the magician's point of view." Yeah right, but whatever.
He did manage to steal the woman's watch and put it on during the course of the performance, which was impressive. Korn has a lead on Benn, if anyone's keeping count.
JB Benn does Shinkoh's Arm Twisting Illusion outside of what looks like Orchard CineLeisure. David Blaine did this years ago in a TV special that has been shown on local TV countless times, and I daresay he did it better by performing to ONE spec and not a crowd where he would have to compromise on the set up. What were they thinking when including this? Where was the innovation? What was the point? But they managed to get a good reaction out of a single teenage girl who screamed. Well done guys!! You didn't even bother to throw in the kicker ending with the twisted forearm.
Chris then performs for an effeminate hotel barman who doesn't seem to speak English (he also calls the Two of Hearts, "the Two of Love" - probably in an attempt to pick Chris up). He does a card trick so lame I can't even begin to explain it. He does 2 very obvious switches whilst pretending to be drunk, and finishes up with a standard invisible deck effect. The barman is probably a stooge too, because Chris has a ready shaker filled with Singapore Sling cocktails switched in at the end. I'm pretty sure he wasn't good enough to steal it from the bar. He looks nervous throughout and his hands seem to shake. Probably from knowing how bad it's gonna look on TV.
The last trick that I can remember is halfway decent. JB Benn performs it for a shy Chinese couple who offer a quiet reaction not fit for TV. The cameraman also exposes Benn's top change at one point. Perhaps not obvious to the untrained eye, but it shouldn't be there anyway. It's a Here-Then-There effect except the card held by the spec is torn. It makes for a nice closing where the chosen card is seemingly restored. A bit like Jay Sankey's "Belly of the Beast" effect.
Here's the next episode's review.
Oh dear, it's that time of the week again. I'm typing this during commercials as the show goes on. Bring on the pain, AXN!
The pair are at Zouk nightclub. This week's performances will all be done at nightspots around town.
Effect #1: JB Benn - He does a commercially available effect, where a borrowed ring disappears from between his hands, and then appears on a keyring in his back pocket. After 2 episodes of Mondo Magic, do I really need to say that it was presented poorly? Benn really comes off as a boring magician.
He does this effect twice. The first time, you hear the clinking of metal as the ring jumps to the keyring (oh how embarrassing for you, JB). The 2nd time, he's pretty clean, except for the horrible fidgeting and suspicious handling of the ring.
Effect #2: Benn again. A card is selected. He brings out flash paper (straight from the case, with no explanation of its suspiciousness). He then brings out TWO AMERICAN QUARTERS. Oh my god, use local currency if you don't want to be suspected. But of course, he can't. He sandwiches the flash paper between the coins and it burns leaving the number and pip of the selected card 'cut out' of the remaining paper.
JB Benn really can't present. I'm sorry if you're tired of my bitching, and yes I know I could just NOT WATCH it, but this guy brings magic down. He makes me hate magic. It's like if you liked McDonalds and one day everyone started this fad of shoving a Big Mac up their asses in public, and then [edited] it out onto the sidewalk before pressing their faces into it - you sure as edited wouldn't want a Big Mac then.
Effect #3: Chris Korn floats a cigarette in Zouk. People applaud. Nothing special about it, looks just like Steve Fearson's signature routine.
Effect #4: Now at Clarke Quay, Chris Korn pulls off a nice trick despite fiddly handling (DU and DL). It's a card stab, and a chosen card is pierced in mid-air with a tiny pocket knife as the deck is sprung into the air. For extra points, Korn is blindfolded with a samurai-face mask! A pleasant surprise.
Effect #5: Boat Quay. They meet up with some local magicians at Harry's bar. I was hoping the locals would represent, but I don't know what happened to them. A bunch of old, inarticulate guys turn up instead. They praise the duo like hired fluffers. ONE of them offers to do a trick. I held my breath. Would our honour be retained?
No. A younger guy does a 3-fly routine, except it looks anything but clean. The camera never comes close enough that we can tell where the coins are at any given time, and so it looks like he's amusing himself by rolling coins in and out of view within his hands. He rushes through the routine while spewing useless patter. "Wow it must be hot tonight, because now there are 3 coins!" Yeah ok, back to the theme restaurant with you.
This is where my respect for Chris Korn goes up a notch. He does a really nice Shadow Matrix effect on a pool table. The performance of this is interspliced with a gimmicked performance on a carpeted floor. He uses AMERICAN MONEY. Benn and him must be sharing a hotel room. In the voice-over he tells the story of how he first saw the shadow matrix and begged the magician to teach him. The old magician never did, but over the years trained him up (up on shaolin mountain until he was released by opening the gates with a burning hot pot held between his forearms), and made him figure it out for himself. Korn says he must have logged 7000 hours practicing the trick, and yes it's nice. But for a pro to have the shadow matrix and card in mouth as his 2 signature tricks is a little sad.
Effect #6: A Chris Korn quickie. He lights flash paper, and produces a billiard ball in the other hand as he throws the flame over. The number of the ball matches a random number previously called out by the spec. Nice, but smells of pre-show prep.
Effect #7: JB Benn does a trick on the pool table of the crazy elephant. Basically he removes a deck from his pocket and puts it down to one side, saying there's a reversed card in the deck. All the magicians in the vicinity instantly recognize the effect and go back to their own business. I know I should have.
He spreads another deck out on the table and has a rack of pool broken. The spec names a ball, and Benn asks her which card the ball is nearest to. That's the short version. In real life, the deck spreading took a full boring minute. Then he picks a spec who looks like she's here on a working holiday visa from some neighboring country (doesn't seem to understand English). She needs the instructions repeated to her about 3 times, and then picks a card that is obviously NOT the nearest to the ball. People in the background start peeking around her and go [edited]?!?!
Blah blah blah, the card matches the reversed card in the other deck.
Effect #8: This is a non-effect. It seems they MUST have an interactive magic-reaches-through-your-TV trick to close with every week. Except this one must be the poorest one they could find in Karl Fulves' Self-Working Tricks book.
Some pieces are candy are laid out around the edges of the screen (Korn is talking down at us through a piece of glass). He notes that in each row, the total number adds up to 10. Note that they are not separate lines. They form a square. Therefore, the pieces of candy in the corners add towards 2 rows each.
He eats a piece of candy, and moves some pieces around. He makes a surprised face, saying, "look! there are still 10 pieces in all rows!" As he does this, he counts each row out loud. TWO MINUTES have passed at this point.
He eats about 3 more pieces, moves some more pieces around, and shows that there are still 10 in each row. You have no idea how bored I felt at this. The trick clocked in at about 4 minutes. Any kid with a primary school math education would get that it was nothing special. What's going on??
End: Yes, the show ended after that uncool trick. Unbelievable. The producers have obviously never heard of the phrase, "Big Finish".
I tried to get a copy of all of the episodes of the Singapore version but the TV company (AXN) refused to have them for sale.