Unveiling the magic: Thirawat Kongnugul’s journey beyond global boundaries


When talking about magicians, names like David Copperfield, Jeff McBride or Criss Angel are the first to come up. However, amid these luminaries, there shines a young Thai magician whose talents have captured attention – Thirawat Kongnugul, better known as “Smart Magic”.

“I want to become a well-known magician and hopefully I can make this my main occupation because I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love being a magician and want to inspire more people to join this industry,” the 23-year-old declared enthusiastically.

The Nation recently had the opportunity to sit down with Thirawat and his parents and delve into the extraordinary journey that has propelled him to global prominence.

Unveiling the magic: Thirawat Kongnugul’s journey beyond global boundaries

Family’s unwavering support

Normally, Thai parents would never allow their child to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, especially in an area where jobs are unstable and there are few opportunities.

However, this was not the case with Thirawat, because his parents gave him total freedom in deciding what to do with his life.

Thirawat’s mother, Apichaya Kongnugul, played a key role in nurturing his talents from an early age. Recognising his innate gift in mimicry, she encouraged him to take a test, and the subsequent report showed that the youngster would do well as a magician or a mime.

This was the start of Apichaya and her husband Ittikorn’s journey of discovery.

Despite financial constraints due to a tiny salary, Ittikorn said he did not think twice about investing 40,000 baht in a magician course for his son.

“I had a gut feeling that my son would do well as a magician. Even if he decided he did not like the course, I would not mind. He could try something else. I believe parents must give their children space to experiment and learn new things. My role as a father is to be an advocate and guide my children down the path of their choice as far as possible,” Ittikorn said.

Unveiling the magic: Thirawat Kongnugul’s journey beyond global boundaries

A magical journey unfolds

“Being a magician is magical – it has opened the door to so many opportunities,” Thirawat said.

His foray into the world of magic began in 2008 when he was just seven. By the time he was eight, he had clinched his first prize as the first runners-up at the 5th Young Magic Competition in Thailand, where he captivated audiences dressed as a zombie with a “power” to float balls in the air.

Unveiling the magic: Thirawat Kongnugul’s journey beyond global boundaries

Since then, he has graced many regional and international stages, showcasing his unparalleled talents in prestigious competitions such as the International Brotherhood of Magic, International Magic Festival, Asia Magic Association, FISM Asia and Shenzhen Championship of Young Magicians.

“I’m most proud of winning the first runners-up award at the 2013 International Brotherhood of Magic competition in the US,” he said.

He said it was his expertise in classic manipulation – a technique that relies on sleight of hand rather than elaborate props – that won him the prize. Thirawat also takes pride in inventing his very own magic tricks and props, ranging from wands and hats to cards, sunglasses and thimbles. For instance, in one sleight of hand, he turns one wand into several and the colour of his sunglasses from black to white.

Reflecting on the artistry of magic, Thirawat noted that while some tricks may appear straightforward, they often require intricate skills. Only magicians truly understand the complexity behind simple illusions, he said.

The young magician has been unstoppable since clinching the first runners-up award at the 2013 International Brotherhood of Magic competition. Just last year, he secured the first runners-up titles at the Magic 808 Convention in Taiwan and the Asian Magic Association Championships 2023 in Shenzhen, China.

Unveiling the magic: Thirawat Kongnugul’s journey beyond global boundaries

He said the landscape of magic has been evolving, with special effects like smoke, light and sound revolutionising performances.

He also praised South Korea for its exceptional training and development of magicians, noting the nation’s rise as a formidable force in the global magic scene. Despite once seeking inspiration from Thai magicians, South Korea now boasts its own champions on international platforms like FISM International, which is like the Olympics for magicians.

“My favourite magician, however, is Yo Taka from Japan. He was the world champion of FISM 2009 in the manipulation genre, which requires skills in using hands and fingers,” he said.

Thirawat is also very grateful to his parents for introducing him to the realm of magic, because not only did it give him opportunities in international competitions, it also helped him win a scholarship for a bachelor’s degree in Taiwan and study as an exchange student in South Korea.

Unveiling the magic: Thirawat Kongnugul’s journey beyond global boundaries

Government support

As a globetrotting magician, Thirawat reflected on the disparities in government support for the magic industry between Thailand and other countries.

“Every time I represented Thailand in competitions abroad, my parents had to fund me. I believe we need more government subsidies to nurture the talent here. Many aspiring magicians may struggle to pursue their dreams without financial assistance,” he said.

Conversely, he said, other nations provide robust backing to magicians, giving them access to excellent coaches, travel funds and incentives for bringing home trophies.

In a bid to bolster support for aspiring magicians in Thailand, Thirawat’s father Ittikorn co-founded the Magic Association of Thailand in 2017 and took on the role of secretary-general. His efforts were instrumental in garnering recognition for Thai magic as a modern art form by the Culture Ministry in 2019. Ittikorn aims to position the Magic Association as a leading organisation in the field, so it can strengthen and elevate Thailand’s standing in the global magic community.

“In Los Angeles, they have the Magic Castle, which is a clubhouse for the Academy of Magical Arts, where magicians and magic enthusiasts can showcase, practice and develop their show and skills,” Ittikorn said.

“Magic has been in Thailand since the Sukhothai era [13th to 14th centuries], with formal recognition during the reign of King Rama V, when the Royal Magical Society was formed.”

He added that with sufficient support, magic could emerge as Thailand’s next soft power, showcasing the country’s rich cultural heritage and artistic prowess.