3/5 stars One of the key elements behind a good magic trick is misdirection – the act of distracting your audience with one hand while the other sets up an illusion, explains Ri-eul, the mysterious protagonist of the Netflix musical fantasy drama The Sound of Magic . This new show from Itaewon Class director Kim Sung-yoon, based on Ha Il-kwon’s webcomic Annarasumanara , essentially does the same thing. During a charming and occasionally enthralling opening episode it dazzles us with bright visuals, infectious musical numbers and engaging performances. But even the best magic trick can’t stretch to six hour-long episodes. Choi Sung-eun, who impressed in her drama debut Beyond Evil and the indie pregnancy drama Ten Months last year, takes on her first major leading role as the diffident Yoon Ah-yi, a high-school student working part-time jobs who has been providing for herself and her younger sister ever since her father had to go on the run from creditors. The one thing that Ah-yi enjoys and excels at is maths. She’s top of the class in the subject, which is a source of frustration for the silver-spooned class whizz Na Il-deung ( True Beauty ’s Hwang In-yeop). True to his name, which literally means first place, Il-deung ranks top in every subject, except maths. The evening Ah-yi finishes her first shift at a new part-time gig in a convenience store, a stubborn wind keeps blowing her day’s pay, a single 50,000 won (US$40) note, out of her hands. She chases it down the road, eventually reaching an abandoned amusement park, where it drifts into the hands of Ri-eul ( The K2 ’s Ji Chang-wook), a handsome young man dressed in a tattered magician’s outfit. 8 new Korean drama series to look out for in May 2022 Ri-eul’s opening words to Ah-yi, as they are to everyone he meets, are “Do you believe in magic?” The earnest question, delivered each time without a shred of irony, really asks us whether we’ve lost our childlike wonder. As a teenager forced to bear adult responsibilities, with dreams of growing up to be able to put more bread on the table, Ah-yi has no time for childish pursuits like magic, but Ri-eul is a tenacious and winsome figure, and his extraordinary sleight-of-hand tricks, which frequently do beggar belief, slowly win her over. Whether he possesses truly magical skills, Ri-eul is a perpetually childlike figure who enjoys playing, but whose personality quickly darkens when he is no longer able to distract from reality with his splendid array of tricks. Reminiscent of the magnetic fabulist Edward Bloom in Tim Burton’s classic Big Fish , or the gregarious wannabe superhero played by Hwang Jung-min in the South Korean film A Man Who Was Superman , Ri-eul is eager to please but inscrutable when it comes to revealing the truth about who he is and where he came from. This timeless concept, which can be traced all the way back to the charming 1950 James Stewart vehicle Harvey , among others, is introduced with an enchanting mix of mirth and magic. Yet as we soon learn, this set-up is in itself an illusion, since the dramatic and sensory pleasures it teases never fully materialise. The interesting premise fails to grow into a full-throttled story and what you see at first is really all you get. Despite the rich design and varied tone it opens with, The Sound of Magic has a surprising lack of characters, locations and even extras. Much of the action takes place in the same high school, but besides Ah-yi, Il-deung, bully Baek Ha-na (Ji Hye-won) and her ambivalent minion Kim So-hee (Kim Bo-yoon), there are only a handful of lines spoken by other students. Furthermore, the school seems to have only one educator, with their homeroom teacher (Lim Ki-hong) seemingly filling in as principal and guidance counsellor as well. The story proceeds with few major cliffhangers and revelations and even the musical numbers, which stand out at first, become increasingly sparse and unmemorable as the show wears on. The show doesn’t commit to being a musical, nor does it fully enter fantasy territory. It keeps pushing us to second-guess whether the magic is real or not, but unlike Big Fish , where the answer to that question provided the cathartic conclusion of the story’s father-son relationship, it remains vague here as it refuses to commit one way or another. Instead, the story casually winds down to a foregone conclusion before drifting away altogether. This all makes The Sound of Magic an especially frustrating experience, as the parts that work, especially early on, are very compelling. We want to continue to be transported into Ri-eul’s world, whether real or imagined, but instead we are kept at arm’s length as the show cuts corners and prevaricates instead of committing to its premise. There’s a worthwhile story here about the circumstances that society boxes us into, the mental complexes we develop as a result of these pressures and the desire to find someone that understands us for who we are. But in the end this is a half-baked fable that could have been so much more. It’s the sound of magic without the feeling of it. The Sound of Magic is streaming on Netflix.