Meet Zlwin Chew. He is magician, mentalist, and illusionist who has performed for thousands including Malaysian royalties and even the country’s prime minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
When he was 18, he chanced upon a magician performing a card trick. Thanks to that incident, Zlwin promised himself that he’ll be a magician too. Today, the 29-year-old Malaysian has wowed people who throng renowned nightspots such as Zouk and has even performed on board prominent cruise ships, among them being the Royal Caribbean Cruises and Star Cruises.
Eksentrika recently got in touch with Zlwin to find out what does it really takes to turn from a simple card trickster into magician of the high seas?
Heya Zlwin! So much has been written about you in the media. You’re essentially Malaysia’s top magician right now! How many hours a day do you devote to practicing your craft and what do you primarily focus on during these sessions?
Well, I wouldn’t agree that I am Malaysia’s top magician right now but I am very happy with where I am today compared to where I was 10 years ago. I’ve been blessed to have met the right people at the right time who believed in me and allowed me to fail and helped me to rise. I am the sum total of these people who trusted me enough to give me platforms to shine and grow my art.
It is difficult to tell how long I spend practicing because every magic act takes different amounts of time and effort to master. For example, there was an act I envisioned in 2013 and I wrote the idea down in my notebook. From the year 2013 to 2017, I found various opportunities to perform a small part of that envisioned act.
In 2018, the inspiration for the final touch came to me and I began work to build the props necessary to bring my idea to reality. For two months I was building in my workshop while mentally practicing the act, thinking about what music to go with it and creating the emotions I needed to feel while performing this act. When it was finally completed, the act consisted of a combination of two different illusions, two songs and a whole world of emotion that I needed to embody while performing it. All in all, I’d say it took me five years to bring this act alive. How long have I spent practicing for it? My entire career.
I say this because a magic act does not just consist of the method of execution. A powerful magic comes with your story – your pain, joy, struggles, failures and triumphant climbs.
I breathe magic. Magic is all around me. When I walk in a mall; I observe art decorations, I look at window displays and admire tables and boxes and carts and props. I look at a nice table and while others just think of it as a nice table, I think to myself, “What if I do this to this table and put this on top of this table, perhaps it could become a prop I could use on stage for an act.”
When I sit at a bar drinking and listening to a live band playing, I listen to the emotions that comes with the singer’s voice and if a song hits me, I think of how I can squeeze the life out of this song and drink its soul to translate it to my magic act. In fact, one of my most beautiful magic was born out of a song I randomly heard while I was eating at a restaurant. That song was new to me but it was an old song, yet when I heard it, I suddenly felt a strong connection and I wanted to bring it to my stage, which I eventually did.
To really answer your question, I practice every waking second; from eating to watching a movie, my mind is constantly thinking about magic because the honest truth is – magic is all around us. As corny as it may seem, it is real to me. Magic is in the toy car the child plays as much as it is in the big shiny vehicle the adult drives around proudly. Magic exists in songs if we care to listen to its soul. It is in the color of the sunflower’s petals.
What was your lowest point in your career as a magician and how did you overcome it?
In 2012, I got hired by Star Cruises cruise company and that was the climax of my career for me. It is so because it has always been my dream to one day perform in a majestic theatre in a luxury cruise ship sailing the oceans. My dream came through in May 2012. I got hired for several months aboard 3 of their ships sailing Asia.
After my contracts ended, I was hoping to have a break at home to build a new show with the money I have acquired. So I spent all my money building my shows with large scale illusion props that were built in Las Vegas and shipped all the way back to Malaysia. These big magic toys costs a fortune and you would not believe that the price of some prop is equivalent to a large down payment for houses. The magic world is a very serious (and expensive) world.
After purchasing all that I needed to put on new 45 minutes stage shows for the cruise ships, I started talking to Star Cruises again to tell them I am ready for my next contracts. All my flying hopes suddenly lost its wings as hope fell from the sky. And oh, it fell hard.
The company weren’t hiring me again. They were kind to tell me that the year was fully booked out and there was no space to slot me in any of their ships. I inquired again several times in the span of two years. I just wasn’t going to give up. But I had to admit that it felt terrible to know that I was not good enough to come back.
This I knew and I admitted. I watched my cruise ship show videos from 2012 and I absolutely thought I was not cut out to be hired back again. In fact, during my contracts there, I was first placed in a big theatre to headline their night gala show, then moved to a smaller venue, then to a much smaller venue and eventually I was performing in a lounge in the morning. I knew I was not good.
I am extremely grateful for Star Cruises to have believed in me enough to hire me for several contracts and giving me chance after chance to prove my worth working from a big ship to a smaller ship, a big theatre to a small lounge. They loved me and took great care of me while I was there. If it wasn’t because of Star Cruises, I would not have been here today.
Today, I work with the biggest cruise company in the world – Royal Caribbean International. And I’ve performed in their largest ship to sail Asia, the Quantum of the Seas which houses a total of 6,000 people with a multi million dollar state of the arts theatre. I’ve performed in luxury cruise ship Silversea Cruises who sells US$10,000 per room. I’ve performed in the Holland America cruise lines and since my start with Royal Caribbean in May 2015, I have so much offers coming in that I have to start turning down so many offers because I can’t take them all.
In my darkest night where lights cease to shine in the blackest sky, I stood unmoved and I looked up to focus on just one little star that was faintly blinking. And that light was more than enough to keep me moving upwards. There is always hope. Always.
I’m glad things turned out well for you, Zlwin. Which individual has left an impact in your life and craft?
The Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. I was on the plane from Melbourne to Sydney and during the journey I completed his book, The Alchemist. The book lit a lamp within me. When I stepped out of the plane to breathe in the cold fresh Sydney air, I felt I was born again. His writings and philosophy inspired me and slowly it crept into my art. I started reading all his other books and I grew through every pages.
My art is also very, very, very much inspired by movies and music.
What are 3 important qualities a budding magician should possess to make it big?
Number one – a heart for people.
Number two – a heart for magic.
Number three – a heart for bringing wonder to people through magic.
If you don’t love people, I don’t see how you can become a great magician. Because magic is everything about the people you perform to. It is the core of why we do what we do. If there is no audience, if there is no one to perform to, then there is no magic. And when you perform magic, do it because you love people and you love magic. Do not, no, NEVER, never do magic because it makes you feel superior or makes you feel greater than others. I have seen magicians perform only because they enjoyed being worshiped and admired. This pains me more than anything because magic is always about the people.
If you want to be a great magician, know that you have such a beautiful power to make people happy, to tickle them with laughter and joy and feeling of awe and wonder.
Share with us some tips for budding magicians who aspire to walk in your footsteps.
Always be on the lookout for opportunities. Where there are no available opportunities, go and make one yourself.
Do not be afraid to dream about the impossible. In 2009, I thought to myself that I could bring magic to the clubs in Malaysia. Seeing a magician working the tables and queues in restaurants and clubs is common in places such as Vegas and Europe. But this is not the case in Malaysia. No one is doing it. Why don’t I be the first. So I shot out emails to many clubs and bars in KL and I got a reply only from one of them – Zouk. That started everything else, which is …. Going to take 2 pages of writings for you to fully grasp its beauty and power. Maybe another time.
With Star Cruises. It was my dream, like I mentioned earlier, to perform in the cruise ship. So one night I went online hunting for leads and I found this man who happened to be the Vice President of Entertainment for Star Cruises, he was the right guy to talk to. I wrote to him and here’s one thing I should highlight. You have to be honest with your intentions and if you need help, ask. If you have a passion and dream, share it with them.
In my email to Star Cruises, I wrote to him telling him about my dream.
“I have never worked a theatre show before. I have never performed aboard a cruise ship before. I do not know how to bring my show to the ships. But I know one thing – I know that If you would give me a chance to do this, I will give you my best and more. I know that I love magic so much and I want to do nothing but magic.”
I wrote my email with a fiery passion and I wasn’t ashamed to tell him that I really wanted this, needed this! I had nothing to lose, I have everything to give.
How can young magicians get their name out there? How did you do this?
Work on yourself. Love people. Do great magic. Soon, people will know you and remember you and ask for you. Also, learning how to use social media platforms is very important in today’s time and age.
You’re also mulling to be more of a mentor figure in future, how do you intend to go about this? Would you possibly set up a magic academy in Malaysia?
I am a small extension of a larger team of magicians called “The MADgicians”. We are a team of individuals each with unique skills in magic and we come together to do great things in small ways. I see myself a student with them and I see myself sometimes as a mentor to share my knowledge with them. We are each others mentors and teachers and inspirations. Setting up an academy is not in my plans but who knows maybe one day things might change. But for now, The MADgicians is our little team of “Avengers”.
If someone wishes to go full time as a magician, what is the most practical thing they have to do before jumping in head first?
You need to really go deep into yourself and ask yourself if you are willing to bleed for magic. Because what you see is me sitting on the balcony of a luxury cruise ship sipping wine and eating from room service while sailing into the Port of Oman in the Middle East. Because what you see is me enjoying the spoils I get from getting hired by prestigious companies. You do not see the work, pain, tears and blood I’ve shed behind the curtains. You do not see the how the pursuit of doing great magic has caused me and my loved ones great pain. You do not see my breaking down because you want to believe that being a full time magician is all glory and glitters.
You need to know it is never easy for anyone to pursue their dreams with reckless abandon. It is never easy to keep the fire burning without it burning you down. You will experience all kinds of failures and rejection on your path towards your dream.
Go. With all your heart, soul and spirit, crawl the path of your dream. May the strength of the rising sun give you hope and power each day as you wake to a bleak morning filled with possibilities of a dream approaching nearer.
In the words of Paulo Coelho, “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Zlwin Chew is set to perform his first ever standalone public performance called “life” which is a show about the world’s greatest magic: Our very own unique lives.
His show will be a series of acts to inspire thoughts and feelings through magical feats such as levitation, manipulation of fire, telekinesis demonstrations and abilities of mind reading. Zlwin will also share with the audience about his journey in life and career in magic.
“life” will be staged at The Gardens Theatre at The Gardens Mall this 29th and 30th November. Get your tickets here!
*** All images by Zlwin Chew.
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