“Please keep up your image. Don’t forget that you are a director (of a bank),” Duy’s 80-year-old mother says as her 47-year-old son heads out with props and kits to perform magic shows.
Her words fail to make an impression on her son.
“When I step on stage and hear the music, I only perceive myself as an artist. The only thing I worry about is wowing the audience. I feel as if I have surpassed myself whenever I put on a great show for them,” Duy said.
Duy is a professional magician but in his “real” life, he is the director of the People’s Credit Fund in Phuoc Thai Commune in the rural district of Long Thanh in Dong Nai Province.
The banker was hooked by magic as a kid and kept pursuing his passion in parallel with carving out a career as a banker.
Tony Hassini, CEO of the International Magicians Society, hands over the Merlin Award 2019 to Ngo Duc Huy. Photo courtesy of Huy.
Duy lost his father when he was only seven years old. His mother was worried he might go astray without a father figure in his life, so she made him focus on his studies even as she allowed him to try out different extra-curricular activities, like playing the guitar, drawing and practicing martial arts. However, Duy was most enchanted by magic tricks performed by circus performers whenever they were in town.
“I was in awe when I saw the magic shows. I kept wondering: ‘How did they do it? Can I also do the same thing?'”
Duy began to dig deeper into the world of magic when he moved to Saigon to begin college in 1991. He learned through books and enrolled himself in magicians’ clubs at the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) Labor Culture Palace and HCMC Cultural Center, where members would come to show and practice their tricks. They also shared tricks and tips with each other. Thanks to such exchanges, he can now perform over 500 different tricks.
After graduating from college, Duy began working in the banking industry, rising to become a director in 2008, the same year he got an invitation to perform his first gig, performing decapitation and the sword impaled through the body at a big stadium on Con Dao Island in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province.
“That night half of 8,000 residents on the island came to see me perform. I was very touched after knowing that nearly a thousand soldiers working on the island were among the audience.”
The banker has since performed at 100 gigs in more than 10 localities in the country, but a majority of the shows are still in Saigon and Hanoi.
Although he has never performed on stage in a foreign country, he has showcased his skills on the street during his travels and business trips.
Impromptu street gigs
“Unlike other countries, street magic in Vietnam is not really popular. When I go to Hong Kong, America or Germany, I perform small tricks with cards, coins, strings, ping pong balls and other props,” he said.
In 2010, while walking on a road in Las Vegas, Duy saw a large carton and long wooden slats at a construction site. He asked the craftsmen there to cut those diagonally into a pointed tip and performed the impaling the body with a sword trick right in front of the people on the road.
“The trick requires lots of props. But being able to quickly find props and to perform the act while I was in another country made me feel very happy. That will be an experience I will never forget.”
Duy is all dressed up to perform a magic show. Photo courtesy of Duy.
More than a decade later, Duy’s passion for magic has not dimmed. He wants to be able to perform more dangerous tricks using more elaborating props just like his idol, the world-famous David Copperfield.
He also takes risks to drive home another point.
“I want to let everyone know that if a world-famous magician can do it, a Vietnamese magician can also do it.”
Perhaps just as magical as his tricks is Duy’s ability to balance his career and passion. In 2019, when he became the eighth person in Vietnam to be awarded the Merlin Award, the highest award given by the International Magic Association, recognizing an artist’s achievements and dedication to magic, he also successfully completed his Ph.D in Finance and Banking.
Palmas Nguyen, president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in Vietnam, said: “Duy is considered one of the leading magicians in Vietnam, having all the qualifications of a world-class magician. On the stage, Duy clearly displays his passion and tries to put up the best gig possible, which is in contrast to his being a very calm and simple person in real life.”
Despite his status as a professional magician, Duy has never considered giving up his banking job to perform solely on performing magic.
“Finance is my career and doing magic shows is my passion. I want to balance and do both of them well at the same time,” he said.
For the last three years, he has been based in Dong Nai, directly managing and developing the People’s Credit Fund of Phuoc Thai. He has also built a coffee brand, working with hometown farmers to develop local agricultural products.
But, come weekends, he still magic shows, shrugging off the injuries he sustains while performing.
For the last 15 years, every time she sees him take the props and costumes out of the house to perform, his mother has kept up her refrain: “Mr. Director, please be careful and stop doing dangerous tricks.”