For Dongwoo Kim (21C), life is literally full of magic. A magician, he sees magic as many things: a method of storytelling, a way to overcome his shyness, the hook he needed to get into boarding school and, at times, just a good icebreaker, or something that allows his hands to fidget. Dongwoo Kim strides around campus like any other student — earphones plugged in, carrying a bulging backpack and sporting a light jacket to beat the fall chill — but chances are, there’s a pack of cards hidden somewhere on him.
What began with that deck of cards and a few YouTube tutorials in fourth grade became performing daily shows during his high school breaks in various theaters across South Korea, his home country, and England, where he attended boarding school. Along the way, he auditioned for “Britain’s Got Talent,” published a magic tutorial book and released an accompanying DVD, which are currently being sold in bookstores across South Korea.
“I mostly do mentalism in my shows, which is basically reading minds and predicting futures — sort of leading people a certain way psychologically,” Kim said. “I don’t really use the classic magic tricks, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat.”
Dongwoo Kim’s fascination with mentalism led him to develop an interest in social psychology and to consider pursuing a major in psychology at Emory, with hopes to incorporate his studies into his magic shows as well as whatever his future profession may be.
Introduced to magic by his mother, Dongwoo Kim has been practicing magic for the past seven years and performing for the past five. He said it began as a hobby, something his mom hoped he would develop a moderate interest in and help him stand out among his peers. However, his mother isn’t quite aware of the extent of his “hobby.”
“My parents weren’t that happy with me doing magic, even though they were the ones to introduce me to it,” Dongwoo Kim said. “They didn’t know I would get in this deep. They once threw away all my magic props because they wanted me to start focusing on my studies, since it was high school and I had to get ready for college, but I just kept doing what I do without them knowing.”
So far, Dongwoo Kim has only performed for a few friends at Emory, although he has yet to perform publically at the University, due to the booked schedules of Emory theaters and his desire to keep his identity as a magician quiet — at least, for the first semester of college.
During high school, Dongwoo Kim performed his magic much more frequently and openly to his classmates. Shy and homesick, Dongwoo Kim said that he would use magic as a way to start conversation and break out of his introversion.
“During high school, I was just ‘The Magician,’” Dongwoo Kim said. “Sometimes people didn’t even know my real name. They just know ‘The Magician,’ and I didn’t want that to happen again in college, so that’s why nowadays I’m not performing as much. What I’m trying to do right now, learning my mistakes from high school, is getting to know a certain person pretty well before showing them that I do magic.”
While being less upfront about his magic in college means performing less frequently, Dongwoo Kim said that he thinks his strategy is working. Sure enough, it is: His friends see him as someone much more than just his magic tricks.
“I feel like magic is just something for us to connect over,” said Afnan Khan (21C), who met Dongwoo Kim during orientation week. “However, there’s a lot more to Dongwoo Kim that makes him a good person and friend.”
Jacob Kim (21C), who lives in Dongwoo Kim’s residence hall, hopes to see Dongwoo Kim perform magic eventually.
“I think it would be good if Dongwoo performs at Emory,” Jacob Kim said. “He is experienced and has performed many times in [South] Korea, and so far as a freshman, I haven’t heard of any magic clubs or performances [at Emory].”
Dongwoo Kim said that he hopes to magic a more common hobby in South Korea through his work, taking inspiration from the much larger magic communities he has witnessed in the United Kingdom and the United States. When he first released his tutorial book and DVD, which are primarily composed of his original magic tricks, he experienced an unexpected side effect: recognition.
“When I first released my book, I made sure that my face wouldn’t get shown,” Dongwoo Kim said. “I tried to keep [my identity] low key, because my main goal was not to get famous or anything, but to provide resources that people might need in the future. But with the DVD, that sort of had to change, and after that, people would come up to me and recognize me.”
During his time in [South] Korea, people asked him for autographs, an experience he said he found humbling and pleasant but at times, “just weird.” In England, he developed a reputation as “The Magician,” a nickname that followed him to Emory despite his efforts to keep his magical talents hidden.
“I don’t know how it all started. I only showed [my magic] to … five or six people [at Emory], and then it just spread like crazy.” Dongwoo Kim said. “For example, because I’m Korean, and a lot of the Korean students knew about it, they’ll call me ‘The Magician’ when I’ve never even met them before.”
Dongwoo Kim said he plans to continue performing magic because he believes it does more good than harm. When he auditioned for “Britain’s Got Talent” last February, he performed a trick in honor of a ferry accident that took place off the coast of [South] Korea in 2014, an accident that killed hundreds of students and remains not well known to those outside the country.
“The act was that you have a big tank on stage, and then there’s water inside, and I shake my hands around inside the water, and the water turns black,” Dongwoo Kim said. “Then, I start taking out pencils, notebooks, something that a student will have, and then at the end, I put my hands in again, and the water turns clear, and there’s a boat on the floor with sand on the bottom, and then when I snap, the boat starts to rise up, and it comes up to the top.”
Dongwoo Kim said that he’s considering starting a magic club in the spring semester once students have gotten to know him better as a person. He has also begun looking for venues on campus to host his performances. Until then, he plans to continue to practice quietly within the confines of his room.
“Magic is different from other hobbies because you sort of need somebody else for it,” Dongwoo Kim said. “When you practice, it doesn’t give you any sort of pleasure. It’s just you in front of a mirror trying to perfect something. When there’s an audience, I can see the happiness and joy that they receive, which is why I love magic.”