“Do you believe in magic?” These are the words muttered constantly throughout The Sound Of Magic like a mantra by the mysterious, enigmatic magician Ri-eul (Ji Chang-wook), who dwells in a derelict amusement park – though, to most townspeople, he only exists in the rumours and whispers. Characterised by a stereotypical magician’s garb, comprising a top hat and a flowy cape to match, Ri-eul is almost always met with skepticism and ridicule when he poses the question; the answer is obviously and usually no.
The series’ protagonist, Yoon Ah-yi played by Beyond Evil’s Choi Sung-eun, reacts the same way during her own fateful encounter with Ri-eul. While walking home with a ₩50,000 bill she earned on the first day at her new part-time job, the sophomore high-school student’s prized banknote is blown out of her hands – and every time after the bill lands on the floor, it somehow flies off just before she can grasp it, leading an otherwise oblivious Ah-yi to the grounds of the abandoned amusement park. She understandably screams and flees in horror after being confronted by the magician’s caped silhouette, choosing to leave behind the money she needs to keep both her and her younger sister afloat.
Although she’s only 17 years old, Ah-yi has no choice but to shoulder the pains and responsibilities of adulthood – with her mother having passed years ago and her father on the run from creditors after his toy-making business went bankrupt. Ah-yi is obligated to not only complete her high-school education, but to also simultaneously assume the role of a parental figure and breadwinner of the household, specifically for her sister Yoon-yi. She cooks, cleans and takes on part-time roles to ensure she has enough funds to do so, as well as pay back the overdue rent she owes her spiteful landlord.
Things don’t get easier for her at school, either. Not only does Ah-yi run late on her first day of second year and subsequently gets humiliated for it, she is also at the near-constant mercy of class bullies Baek Ha-na (Ji Hye-won) and Kim So-hee (Kim Bo-yoon), who incessantly pick on her for the visible signs of her poverty. But Ah-yi finds a glimmer of hope and friendship in deskmate and top scorer Na Il-deung (Hwang In-youp), who portrays the caricature of a perfect student with impeccable grades and career prospects but, in truth, he is under extreme pressure from his parents to pursue a career he doesn’t believe will fulfill him.
With both Ah-yi and Il-deung seeking solace from their overwhelming stressors, their paths converge with that of Ri-eul, who introduces them to his magic and its capabilities. While initially suspicious of Ri-eul’s claims of being a “real magician”, both teens gradually open up to the childlike wonder it elicits in them, and his lair within the abandoned theme park becomes a place of refuge from their harsh realities, where they get a chance to be children again.
At first glance, The Sound Of Magic might seem like a one-dimensional fantasy tale of a magician introducing the miracles of his spellwork to change the lives of two unhappy teenagers. But there are layers here to be peeled back and examined – magic is not meant to be taken at face value, but rather as an allegory for the courage to face the challenges of everyday life. Whenever Ri-eul probes into Ah-yi’s or Il-deung’s belief of magic, he’s really asking, “Do you believe in yourself?” As both kids begin to allow themselves to indulge in the thrill of Ri-eul’s magic, what they truly take away from the magician is the realisation that a faith in themselves is vital to overcome the setbacks that plague their lives.
Much of this can be attributed to Ji Chang-wook’s deeply emotive portrayal of Ri-eul – a character as mystical, bright-eyed and otherworldly as Ri-eul, it would’ve been easy to get wrong. In the hands of an agile performer such as Ji – that much has been evident from his extensive backlog of previous on-screen roles over the years – Ri-eul is as charismatic as the role should beget, be it the wizardry he conjures up for Ah-yi or the more vulnerable sides to the character when having to untangle the traumas from his childhood.
Sadly, six hour-long episodes are not nearly enough to meet this show’s sheer ambition – or, at the very least, have been terribly paced. The show takes its sweet time to establish its characters – in great, albeit sometimes unnecessary, detail – that it’s tough to maintain enough interest in the show until it truly gets going with its story. And, when the plot finally kicks in, it feels like the writers are panicking for time, and start to frantically unravel everything all at once.
But between all that, at the very least, The Sound Of Magic has gorgeous cinematography, defined by the seamless visual effects and vivid colour-grading that breathes life into the magical world viewed through the eyes of Ri-eul and, later on, Ah-yi and Il-deung. It’s harmoniously woven with the musical elements of the show. Although, the show at times struggles to strike a balance between the emotive themes it tries to convey and the eccentricity it offers; sometimes straining to include musical numbers where it would otherwise have done better without.
The Sound Of Music, Netflix’s take on Ha Il-kwon’s popular webcomic Annarasumanara, is an interesting, at times refreshing entry to the K-drama field. The series also boasts a strong cast with stellar performances, delightful cinematography, as well as a spirited attempt at deeper social commentary – but beyond that, the show mostly fails to delight and enthuse.
The Sound Of Magic is available to stream on Netflix globally.