All entertainment requires a suspension of disbelief; knowledge that a soupçon of bamboozlement must be swallowed in order to enjoy the mouthfeel of fiction. “Do you…believe…in magic?” is the refrain frequently uttered by South Korean series The Sound of Magic when about to embark on a frisson of melodrama.
It’s a question you will have to keep on asking yourself through the show’s 6 episode run.
Life is not going well for high school girl Yoon Ah-yi (Choi Sung-eun). Her mother has passed away and her father has fled debtors leaving her to care for her younger sister and struggling to pay rent, afford food, or even replace ripped tights.
Her classmates, when not gossiping about her poverty, whisper about a strange magician who lives at an abandoned fun fair. Will he help ignite the flame that has been extinguished in her heart? Annarasumanara.
All the ingredients are there for a high emotional show where Ah-yi’s desperation is buffeted by the twin influences of The Magician’s child-like mysteriousness (Ji Cang-wook) and the intensity of Na Il-deung (Choi Seung-hoon) whose high achieving arrogance hides an uncertainty behind the eyes.
Plus, The Sound of Magic pulls an ace out of its sleeve by being a musical complete with an array of dramatic song and dance numbers. So why does its trick fail to have any prestige?
The Sound of Magic balances itself all wrong, dragging a bare minimum of content and characters over six hours when three would barely have been enough. Ah-yi’s dire situation is so hopeless that her initial interactions with The Magician are lacking any fizz at all: she quite rightly rejects his nonsense as of no help to her situation.
A love triangle element is dabbled with between The Magician and Na Il-deung although you’d be hard-pressed to find it. With tears constantly brimming in her eyes and her gaze driven resolutely down in the face of bullying (all from one stock ‘provocateur’ character), Ah-yi has little time for love and neither do the writers.
Instead, she is the subject of their male fascination, both of whom are persistently oblivious to her circumstances.
Is The Sound of Magic Worth Watching?
This tonal anaemia constantly hobbles The Sound of Magic which is a shame because there are some flourishes in there. Half of the songs may be dreary ballads, but the other half put on a spectacle that clearly wants to be The Greatest Showman.
Na Il-deung comes into his own as the show progresses; after an infuriatingly slappable start the best musical elements – his battle to break free of the treadmill of exams, or his fight to wrestle his future from the pressure set by domineering parents – are his to own.
With such real world problems, the show really struggles to mesh in its lighter-hearted ‘the power of magic’ elements. When you have a depressingly stock sexual assault incident, some wally turning up to do a spot of saviour magic isn’t a desirable tone.
The way this is resolved leaves open the question of whether The Magician is performing real magic or simple trickery but his undercurrent of mystery (along with a missing school girl plot that meanders in and out) exists just to yank the flower out of the hat too late in the final episode.
Ji Cang-wook’s wide-eyed bewilderment is arguably either charming or a blank-slate plot device, but either way his blinkered inability to engage with any character on a realistic level isn’t endearing nor particularly mysterious.
He is one of a mere handful of characters who rotate around a very limited amount of locales. That no character is able to walk away without being stopped in their tracks and lathered up by yet more slow dialogue betrays a show bereft of much to say.
Despite a great performance from Choi Sung-eun and some glimmers of style under its velvety cloak, when you pull back the curtain The Sound of Magic has nothing more to offer than smoke and mirrors.
Words by Mike Record