Updated: Jul 23
This six-episode musical based on the popular webcomic Annara Sumanara features Ji Chang-wook in one of his most enchanting roles to date, and puts the spotlight on the talented up-and-coming actress Choi Sung-eun.
It’s a strange and amazing story, and one that may be hard to believe. So says the show’s fantastical opening musical sequence.
Yoon Ah-yi (Choi Sung-eun, Beyond Evil), a poor yet mathematically gifted high school student, has lost the will to dream. Abandoned by her parents and working part-time jobs to support herself and her sister, she’s grown tired of hoping and waiting for things to be better.
Na Il-deung (Hwang In-yeop, 18 Again, True Beauty), the school’s top student, lives under immense pressure to fulfill his parent’s dream for him to follow in the family’s prestigious legal footsteps.
Though facing different challenges, the two high-school students find themselves drawn to the magical world of a mysterious magician, Ri-eul (Ji Chang-wook, Suspicious Partner), who lives in an abandoned theme park up on a hill.
Is his magic powerful enough to make them dream for themselves again? Or is he a crazy fraud who just refuses to grow up and live in the real world?
Take a bit of high school musical, add a dash of Disney-style magic, and then mix in a fair dose of k-drama-style social commentary, and you get The Sound of Magic—a six-episode tale of disillusioned youth and the power of believing in yourself, told in song.
Like any good musical, the show imparts its life lessons in lyrics. “Choose the path not taken, no need to be afraid. Question everything you’re used to.” “Fear is a shadow you grow within yourself.” “When I believe in myself, I finally find out, that every second is actually fantasy”.
Some of the sentiments may be trite, but set to the music of prolific composer and music director Park Sung-il (Itaewon Class, My Mister, Arthdal Chronicles), the words take flight. The fantastical opening sequence may have set the bar a bit too high, though, rendering some of the slower-paced songs that followed relatively unmemorable (at least on first watch).
Like any good k-drama, the show’s social commentary is also on point. The drama is a critique of the pressures and expectations adults place on kids, the rigid education system, and society’s cookie-cutter definition of success. Its lines on the youth’s inability to dream for themselves, or even to choose not to dream of anything, bring to mind early BTS songs like “No More Dream” and “Paradise,” which resonate so much with not just with Koreans, but with young people across the globe.
With the focus on these issues, though, the drama feels heavy for much of its running time, outweighing the fantastical elements that you may have expected going in.
The story that weaves all of this together is also not as tightly woven as it could be. As Yoon Ah-yi and Na Il-deung start to believe and trust Ri-eul, the drama raises suspicions and questions around the mysterious magician. Though the big mysteries are resolved by the end of the show, there’s not enough sleight of hand to distract us from the questions left unanswered. But if you’re one to believe in magic, then you’re probably one to ignore these minor issues as well.
This unique high-school-magical-musical-commentary would not work, of course, without the right cast. In this unusual role, Ji Chang-wook—who rose to fame with action roles—surprises with his incredible versatility (he said he learned and practiced magic for over three months!). And there must also be some kind of magic involved in how the 31-year-old Hwang In-yeop managed to convincingly portray a high school student.
But without question, the best thing about this show is the talented Choi Sung-eun as Yoon Ah-yi. In just her first major role in a drama, the 25-year-old veteran of short and independent films more than held her own opposite one of Hallyu’s biggest stars. It says a lot that I decided to watch this drama because of Ji Chang-wook, but kept gushing about how good Choi Sung-eun is throughout the series.
With a total screening time of just about six hours, The Sound of Magic is an easy binge if you're keen on sprinkling a bit of magic onto your weekend.
STREAM IT: If you need a reminder that things can be better amid the harsh realities of life.
SKIP IT: If you're not into musicals.