HomeNews‘The Untamed’: Chinese boy love drama we can’t stop watching

‘The Untamed’: Chinese boy love drama we can’t stop watching

One of China’s biggest and most controversial hits of last summer is now on Netflix. Here's why everyone is watching 'The Untamed'.

‘The Untamed’: Chinese boy love drama we can’t stop watching

One of China’s biggest and most controversial hits of last summer is now on Netflix, and you need to put your life on hold to watch it. The Untamed is part of Netflix’s new initiative to diversify its lineup with more international shows. This Chinese series has earned itself a full-blown Netflix binge weekend – we promise.

Based on the fantasy web novel Mo Dao Zu Shi (translated as Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation) written by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, the story was told as an animated series before The Untamed’s live-action adaptation. 

The Untamed sets itself apart immediately

Starring two boy band icons, Wang Yibo (王一博) of Korean-Chinese group UNIQ and Xiao Zhan (肖战) of Chinese band X NINE, The Untamed immediately received attention from young-adult viewers. Wang Yibo (王一博) and Xiao Zhan (肖战)  are two of China’s biggest stars in both music and film.

The Untamed follows Wei Wuxian (Xiao Zhan) and Lan Wangji (Wang Yibo) as “cultivators”, with supernatural powers from different worlds who are forced to work together to protect the peace in their worlds. The two fight villains, solve a series of murders, and uncover a dark mystery. 

Wei Wuxian & Lan Wangji couldn’t be more different in The Untamed. Wai Wuxian is irreverent, good-natured, and ruthless. In contrast, Lan Wangji is stoic, spiritual, and tragic, providing a perfect foil for his animated co-star.

What makes The Untamed so controversial?

Lovers of the novel Mo Dao Zu Shi know the most dynamic storyline is the relationship between Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. While not a topic that is taboo in the U.S. anymore, in China the “boy love” or homoerotic theme of the novel put a faithful adaptation of The Untamed in doubt. 

In fact, rumors that The Untamed would introduce female love interests may have contributed to the series’s weak start. As word got out that the show stayed truer to the novel than expected, the series took off in popularity.

In Mo Dao Zu Shi, the heroes’ homosexual relationship is explicit, while The Untamed presents their relationship as a brotherhood-style bond. However, the series is impeccably performed by Xiao Zhan & Wang Yibo, creating palpable sexual tension with microexpressions and lingering eye contact. The Untamed takes inspiration from the slow-burn heat of the original and sizzles on our screens for the full 50 episodes.

The Untamed flipped the story to avoid censorship and made something truly beautiful

Fans of the series knew the regulations it was up against in China and were careful to protect the storyline. In discussing The Untamed online, chatters avoided explicit mention of the show’s gay undertones, referring to the topic using the misleading but politically charged hashtag “socialist brotherhood” in hopes of avoiding attention from regulators.

Why you can’t miss The Untamed

The Untamed is captivating. The characters, story, and artistry are all top-notch examples of great television. S1’s fifty episodes take us on a powerful path of complex storylines and heart-wrenching longing. We get to watch the characters of both Wei Wuxian and Lan Wang Ji grow and develop in compelling and sometimes surprising ways.

The agonizing love story between Wuxian and Wang Ji becomes all the more powerful through hidden smiles and heartfelt looks. Wuxian and Wang Ji perfectly embody the profound torment of a love that can’t be. 

Criticism of China’s authoritarian censorship practices is undoubtedly warranted. The creators behind The Untamed have taken these limitations and crafted a piece of  powerful subtlety in their expressive art. The Untamed paradoxically may be all the stronger for sweet nothings left unsaid.

Viewers can stream The Untamed’s entire 50-episode first season on Netflix.

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Bridget is on an ongoing quest to channel Veronica Corningstone in all facets of life. As a lover of true crime documentaries and cheesy romance movies, Bridget's joy in the silver screen is only exceeded by her capacity to recall 90s hip hop lyrics.

blusky@filmdaily.co

Comments
  • I have been watching this a lot and have done a lot of thinking as to why I am hooked to this drama.
    At first I was like everyone else, praising the deep affection and devotion of LAN Wangji towards WEI Wuxian and was greatly touched by that. Then it occurred to me that there is something else. It is not just the romance part that is captivating. It is the much bigger themes like injustice, helplessness and the blurry line between right and wrong.
    I watched episode 32 a lot and still feel angry each time. When Wei arrived on the scene where everybody else was pledging to besiege and destroy him, he argued with them. That argument I think is the highlight of the whole drama. It was a superhero against the whole self-righteous world which was determined to destroy him because they were afraid that his existence would keep them in check. Think how we relate to this theme in this day and age.
    Wei had his shortcomings in that he was unbridled and arrogant in challenging those in power (hence the title, The Untamed). But he was young (17? 18? then. They were 15 when they attended lectures at the Lan residence) and he had suffered a lot. JIANG Cheng was consoled and sympathized for losing his parents, but who was there to console Wei who lost his foster father who loved him more than he did his own son? No one. Instead he was blamed for their death. His donation of his golden core to JIANG Cheng meant that he could never be a true cultivator again. This was a heavy blow to him as much as it had been to JIANG Cheng and even more so. It was not just the loss of the ability to cultivate, it also created a barrier between him and his love, LAN Wangji, whom he loved without realising it. He was no longer Lan’s equal now. He used to be a proud prodigy and now his sense of inferiority when facing Lan was excruciating. In the past he could ignore the fact that Lan was perfect and exemplary and kept pestering Lan to be his friend, now there was a chasm between them as he was practicing in an unorthodox way and was therefore thought of as evil, while Lan was still the embodiment of virtuousness and loftiness. He handled this by avoiding Lan or quarrelling with him when they did encounter and Lan attempted to advise and help him, which hurt them both. Viewers are frustrated by his denseness when facing Lan’s affection, but if we stand in his shoes, we can easily see that in his mind Lan was way out of his league for him to imagine that Lan actually fell for him.
    He had been thrown into the Burial Mound to die, where no one ever survived. He was haunted by all the ghosts and evils there, yet he rose above it and soared again like a phoenix. This together with other amazing things he did proved that he was indeed a prodigy. A prodigy who did not conform could not be tolerated.
    Let’s go back to the argument in episode 32. He was accused of being cruel, ruthless and evil because he killed the people who ambushed him and intended to kill him; he was labeled as the culprit who placed the curse on JIN Zixun and when he said he didn’t do that, he was asked to prove it. His counterargument that the other person should then also prove that he himself was not the culprit was met with ridicule. All in all, when they said he was the villain and threw all blames on him, there was no way that he could win the argument.
    Earlier in this episode he arrived on the scene where some cultivators were defaming him behind his back. When he beat them they dared him to pick up fights with the powerful clan leaders, instead of themselves who were only low-level and insignificant cultivators. I like Wei’s argument that “just because you are at low-level doesn’t mean I should endure your behavior”. It is very much relevant in our time with so many keyboard warriors. Wei had always been eloquent. But the well had been poisoned and whatever he said was wrong because he was said to be evil in the first place.
    Can you feel the helplessness here? The whole world turns against you unjustly and you are in no position to defend yourself. He lost all loved ones, and with the death of WEN Qing and WEN Ning, all his sacrifices were futile. He wasn’t really connected to WEN Qing or WEN Ning. His efforts in rescuing them were merely an act of heroism. He once said that he would have done exactly the same for people other than WEN Qing and WEN Ning. The pledge he made as a teenager to eliminate all evils and protect the weak proved to be a joke. WEI Wuxian lived for that ideal and when he was disillusioned, he died.
    These are the true causes of Wei’s death. The drama is ambiguous as to how Wei died. Legend had it that JIANG Cheng killed him, which we later find out to be untrue. Those who read the novel say he died because all the ghosts and evil spirits he utilized backfired. What we see in episode 32 is that he jumped off the cliff himself. Whatever the direct cause, he just lost the will and drive to live, which is poignant

    December 15, 2019
    • Well said, Lily. It is tragic. Everything that could go wrong does in ways I didn’t see coming, and it’s the righteous hypocrisy and mob mentality that are the truest villains. There’s no need for me to repeat what you wrote so eloquently, but I agree. The only thing I hadn’t thought of was how you saw Wei feeling unworthy of Wanji. That is interesting. He’d certainly been pursuing their “friendship” relentlessly from the start and was obviously proud of being his equal. Certainly a valid slant on why he wouldn’t still want to live and not leave Wanji behind. (Telling him to let him go.) Well, not to mention the fact that they are facing off themselves moments before during the chaos! Even though Wanji doesn’t go through with it, Wei is so devasted by ALL of it. At that point, it seems he sees he’s lost control and IS evil. I mean, that’s heavy! I don’t think it’s cleared up in Wei’s mind that Wanji truly trusts him and doesn’t think he’s evil until the scene at Cloud Recesses, if my memory serves. He wasn’t even sure himself that he’d heard a second flute. Well, dang! Maybe now I HAVE to go watch it again. Such a torturous task. Thanks for sharing. It takes tremendous actors to pull me into a world so foreign and out there that I’d be reading about it and now answering you. What a beautiful ride. BTW, the scene that made me cry, for real, was the one in the rain with the Wen clan remnants, where Wanji is holding the umbrella. When Wei said what he said…wow. What is deeper than that? The acting from both is outstanding. But it was Wei’s delivery that sucker punched me. He MEANT it.

      January 9, 2020
  • I really like to think that their relationship are only brotherhood-like, I respect BL but I’m not a fan, so it somehow calms me that the they represent it as brotherhood style. I can’t get much sleep thinking about the movie and the original novel, (which gave me goosebumps and not a good one), but seriously, I really love the untamed because of its amazing action genre.

    December 30, 2019
    • Some thoughts should remain unsaid.

      January 9, 2020

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