Do you... believe in magic? - this single sentence summarises the spirit of the latest Korean drama on Netflix, The Sound of Magic. This is also the line said by Ri-Eul, the puzzling magician who leads this series. But is he truly a magician? Or is everything a grand diversion?
What starts as a thrilling voyage into the magical world quickly takes a sinister turn, leaving us to doubt just what we've witnessed. Every time Ri-Eul raises this question, he is generally treated with suspicion and scorn; the reply is plainly and typically ‘no.’
Yoon Ah-Yi, portrayed by Choi Sung-Eun, has the same reaction during her own fatal meeting with Ri-Eul. While heading home with a 50,000 bill, she managed to earn at her new part-time job, her prized banknote is tossed out of her hands – and each time the bill lands on the ground, it flies away just before she can capture it, guiding Ah-Yi to the premises of a deserted amusement park.
After being faced with the magician's masked shadow, she cries and runs in terror, leaving behind the cash she needs to support herself and her younger sister.
Despite being just 17 years old, Ah-Yi is forced to assume the pains and duties of adulthood, as her mother passed away years ago and her father fled after his toy-making firm went bankrupt.
Ah-Yi is expected not just to graduate high school, but also to undertake the parenting role and financial responsibility for her younger sister, Yoon-Yi. She cooks, cleans, and works part-time jobs to guarantee that she has the income to support herself and start repaying the rent to her insensitive landlord.
Things are difficult for her in school as well. But Ah-Yi discovers a glint of hope and companionship in desk mate Na Il-Deung (Hwang In-Youp), who depicts the stereotype of a perfect student with outstanding grades and career opportunities; but in reality, he is under intense stress from his parents to land a career he does not believe will satisfy him.
Ah-Yi and Il-Deung, both craving relief from their crushing stresses, cross paths with Ri-Eul who teaches them about his magic and its powers.
While first sceptical of Ri-Eul's claims of being a ‘genuine magician,’ both teenagers gradually develop a sense of youthful wonder, and the deserted amusement park becomes a shelter from their harsh lives where they can be children again.
It's difficult to keep enough interest in the series until the plot really begins, because the characters are established in such a great, if occasionally unneeded, depth. And, when the story finally begins, it appears like the creators are in a rush, as they begin to unwrap everything all at once.
At first look, The Sound of Magic may appear to be a simple fantasy story about a magician who uses the marvels of his spellcasting to improve the lives of two miserable youngsters.
However, there are depths to be sliced open and analysed; magic is not meant to be accepted at surface level, but rather as a metaphor for the bravery to confront the obstacles of daily life.
When Ri-Eul questions Ah-Yi or Il-Deung about their trust in magic, he is actually asking if they believe in themselves. As both children begin to enjoy the pleasure of Ri-Eul's enchantment, they come to realise that self-confidence is essential for overcoming the obstacles of life.
Overall, The Sound Of Magic's stunning cinematography is characterised by flawless cinematic effects and vibrant colour grading, which bring to life the magical world seen through the eyes of Ri-Eul and, later, Ah-Yi and Il-Deung.
It is intertwined nicely with the musical parts of the performance. However, the plot occasionally struggles to establish a balance between the emotional issues it seeks to portray and the quirkiness it gives, including musical numbers where it might have been better off without them.