Magical moments: Macao’s most enchanting store opens a new location in the historic centre Link copied
A place where Macao’s magically inclined can convene, Iong’s Magic Shop has developed an international reputation for its masterful performances, world-class equipment and dedication to teaching the craft.
Supernatural forces. Mysterious happenings. Spellbinding sleights of hand. Enchanted worlds have captured imaginations from time immemorial. In Macao, one shop in particular delights visitors with its dedication to spells and sorcery: Iong’s Magic Shop, which just opened a new location near the Ruins of St Paul’s.
Founder and magician Raymond Iong first encountered magic on a family trip to Zhongshan, Guangdong, where a street performer captivated his imagination with a simple glass of water. The magician covered an empty glass with a cloth and, with a flick of the hand, the glass was miraculously full. Just six years old at the time, Iong was mesmerised. He saved his allowance for a year to pay the magician RMB 300 to teach him the trick.
Now 52, Iong is the only man in China to hold a magician’s coveted Merlin Award. The International Magicians Society grants the coveted award to practitioners to recognise their global contributions to the art form.
In 1986, Iong set up his shop at Holland Garden (荷蘭園) on Avenida do Conselheiro Ferreira de Almeida, then moved to a booth in the old New Yaohan from 1991 to 1997. He later expanded to a bigger store in the Kiang Wu Hospital vicinity in 2005, remaining there for more than 15 years. The store eventually caught the eyes of a Hollywood production team, which led to a feature in Now You See Me 2.
Hollywood attention aside, Iong and his team have made a name for themselves among professional magicians over the years. Many illusionists visiting the region swing by Iong’s looking for equipment, from a basic deck of cards to highly flammable flash paper, chop cups, rings, ribbons, hats and more.
When Studio City ran The House of Magic, for example, resident magician Shin Lim became a loyal customer, often ringing them up for props. Another time, famous American illusionist David Blaine, who has broken several world records during stunts, visited the shop.
Iong’s has also become a prominent brand in mainland China, where they have helped to expand the magic industry. According to Iong’s Magic Shop project director and magician Victor Choi, who pursued the craft after watching Iong perform a card trick in 1995, China was a better place to start a career.
Before the handover, Macao did not have as many resources or career options. What’s more, people didn’t pay much attention to magic. As Choi recalls, it was a difficult time to become a professional magician in Macao. However, across the border, mainland China was full of potential. Iong was often invited to hold talks and teach Western-style magic in the mainland, which indicated a lot of potential for the business.
In 1998, Iong expanded to Guangzhou because of its proximity to Macao. “At the very beginning, we didn’t think our tiny shop would develop to this scale,” he says. But thanks to media coverage by the Guangzhou Broadcasting Network, the store gained traction and customers poured in. Today, Iong has more than 100 franchises all over China, including Qingdao, Dalian, Nanjing, Shanghai and Beijing.
While there were already tiny magic shops all over China, Choi says they lacked professional credentials. With Iong heading up the team, the shop motivated and educated people about Western magic in China. Western magic, he says, is known for its innovation and creative flair, while the Chinese style tends to emphasise skilful execution.
“There’s this saying in China that if you do magic professionally and don’t know Raymond Iong, then your skills are limited,” says Choi. “This is because my teacher was the one that brought the Western magic style to China.”
Hollywood enters the picture
After the shop entered China, work became very busy for Iong. So much so that he had to press pause on his magic shows in Macao for a spell while continuing to run the shop. With so much growth in China, Iong and Choi relocated to Guangzhou to manage local opportunities more easily.
“I was there for 20 years and only recently returned to Macao in the last five years to manage the store here,” Choi says. He moved back to Macao just in time to greet Hollywood producers, who came calling.
As Choi recalls, when the producers of Now You See Me 2 first visited the store in 2014, they posed as tourists. On their second visit, they revealed their identity and expressed interest in buying a license to use the shop’s name in a film. They also took many photos of the store, which they used to build a set in the UK.
While the shop didn’t profit much from the licensing agreement, the exposure when the movie came out in 2016 led to a noticeable uptick in customers. They also received a lot more messages, emails and web traffic. “Suddenly, we were getting worldwide visitors to our site!” recalls Choi, who was promoted to project director that same year.
After the movie debuted, more film producers invited Iong’s Magic Shop to showcase their equipment and magic tricks in a Now You See Me exhibition in Zhuhai’s Lionsgate Entertainment World (獅門娛樂天地) in 2019. To delight and inspire visitors, they kitted out the exhibition space with props and gear used in the film, including a light-up thumb, double shock ring, card decks and magic wands.
Macao’s ‘castle’ of magic
While Iong’s largest shop is now in Guangzhou, the original Macao branch is still the heart and soul of the business. So much so that they recently relocated to a four-storey location nicknamed the “Magical Castle”, just around the corner from the Ruins of St Paul’s.
With a new address in the Historic Centre of Macao, Choi says they were banking on tourists to visit the shop. But since the pandemic put a dent in their plans, they will progressively open each floor over the next few months. At the moment, the ground and second floors are open to the public, complete with a “flying” carpet, a torso-less body on a bench and many interactive displays that are perfect for photo ops.
“We have a stage on the first floor, and once it’s ready, it will make it easier for us to host our classes, as well as performances for both tourists and locals,” says Choi, adding that a “levitating” broomstick awaits for Harry Potter fans. In addition to shows and installations, the shop provides a range of equipment and props for beginners and professionals alike.
“Magic is mystical,” says Choi. People may think they can’t do what they see in magic shows, making the art feel elusive, he continues, but actually most people can learn those tricks. “Once they learn how to perform magic, people feel a sense of accomplishment which helps build confidence,” he says. “This makes it an even more unique and magical experience to have.”
Doing all they can to help the industry develop, Iong’s Magic Shop teaches students the art of illusions through in-person classes, which aspiring magicians can book via Facebook. Although most performances in Macao have been put on hold due to the pandemic, the duo continues to showcase their original magic tricks during performances in mainland China.
For instance, they recently held “Iong’s Magic Funfare” in a new shopping mall in Zhuhai, which drew a large crowd. “It’s in the storytelling – our magic has elements of love, music, and Chinese story themes,” says Choi, adding that they created unique performances for each event. “I think magic can simply bring smiles to people’s faces, and seeing this makes me happy.”