Magicians JC Sum and Magic Babe Ning thrilled audiences at this year's Singapore Night Festival by escaping from two straitjackets while attached to a burning rope that was suspended 75ft in the air. Called the Ultimate Inversion, the stunt won a spot in the Singapore Book of Records as the first to attempt a tandem upside down double straitjacket escape.
We caught up with JC and Ning between performances on a Royal Caribbean cruise to find out more about what goes into their act.
On 31 Aug 2013, as the closing act for the Singapore Night Festival, J C Sum & 'Magic Babe' Ning set a world record for the first ever tandem double upside down strait jacket escape. The mega stunt entitled "Ultimate Inversion" was staged in front of over 10,000 people. Photo by Shawn Danker.
How did your friends and family react when you told them you wanted to become a magician?
JC: I turned down an honours year in university so I could graduate early and become a full time magician. I had already been performing commercially since junior college, so going full time was a natural progression. My parents were supportive.
Ning: I’m the eldest of three girls and my folks are your typical caring and concerned Asian parents. They want what's best for their kids, and are a bit cautious and conservative. They never actually expected me to be a magician full time!
But they gave me their blessing because they realized that I could take care of myself while following my heart. They recognize that I’m an unconventional woman, a female magician who has broken glass ceilings at international level.
Who are your inspirations?
JC: David Copperfield, because of the level he raised the craft to and because he made magic mainstream. Magic was considered children's entertainment before David Copperfield made it an international spectacle.
Ning: Before ‘Magic Babe’ Ning came onto the scene, there were no leading women in the magic field and I genuinely felt alone without any female mentors to look up to. So I decided to ‘whack’ out my own path by drawing inspiration from strong women in pop culture that I admired, like Madonna. But I have to say that the person who has had the biggest influence on me is Princess Tenko. Yes, she made me realize that it’s possible for an Asian female magician to hold her own.
Ning, can you tell us a little of what it's like to be a female performer in a male dominated industry?
Magic Babe Ning performing her straitjacket striptease
To be honest, it was difficult initially because of the conventional expectation that women are expected to play the assistant. It took a while for me to prove myself and break that long-established stereotype. I came up against daunting comments from ‘old school’ magicians and chauvinistic men who disapproved of the notion of a woman taking charge on stage.
Have you guys ever hurt yourself during any of your acts or rehearsals? What's the worst injury that you've sustained in the name of your art?
JC: I've either been lucky enough to escape serious injury, or maybe I just leave all the real dangerous stuff to Ning. I design the death defying stunts and she performs them. I think it is a good balance.
Ning: Many of our illusions are extremely physical and involve lots of jumping, crouching and squeezing. JC and I have a stage illusion called ‘360 Sawing’ where my body is dramatically cut up, divided in half and my torso rotated around my bottom half like a fast moving roller-coaster. I suffered from severe whiplash and my fingers were always nearly severed every time we performed this illusion.
Ning alluded in her book that magic is very competitive. How have you been able to stay one step ahead?
JC: We're constantly pushing ourselves to present new illusions, acts and mega stunts. Our past mega stunts have resonated well with audiences and we've been able to repeatedly come up with fresh ideas without compromising quality.
Magic Babe Ning escapes a watery grave as she completes her escape the water vault mega stunt at the Singapore Night Festival 2013. Photo by Shawn Danker
Ning: I work hard on making my acts unique. For example, my new double straitjacket striptease act! The straitjacket escape act is traditionally performed in a ‘macho’ fashion, but I perform it in a sensual ‘Magic Babe’ way. The first time I tried to do this, I nearly twisted my right shoulder out of its socket!
I debuted this escape in Italy last year and got a tremendous response from over 500 magicians. I've since performed it while suspended upside down at Resorts World Genting and more recently as part of our closing act for the Singapore Night Festival.
Ning, when did Magic Babe Ning become a sexy vamp?
My first ‘FHM’ shoot in 2007 turned ‘Magic Babe’ into a sexy persona. I was never a shy person but I never considered myself sexy either. Far from it, in fact! But, the FHM shoot caught the attention of ‘Magicseen Magazine’, Europe’s largest magic magazine, who subsequently requested an interview. That interview gave Magic Babe Ning the moniker of the “sexiest woman in magic” and is what I've been known as since.
Your stunts get bigger and riskier. Is there nothing you won't attempt?
JC and Ning performing their Crystal Metamorphosis act
JC: Actually, though our acts seem to escalate, what we are really doing is seeking to make each of our stunts different. For example, our first mega stunt saw me teleporting 50 stories in five seconds. Our most recent stunts at the Night Festival were full-view mega escapes, one underwater and one 75ft in the air from a burning rope. We take pains to make sure no two stunts in a row are similar in effect, genre or even feel. This keeps our act fresh.