‘The Untamed’ toes the line between addictive epic fantasy and romance
Netflix has finally picked up the controversial Chinese smash TV series that everyone is talking about. The Untamed marks another early entry into Netflix’s strategy for incorporating international shows into its lineup. But not all of the streaming giant’s acquisitions have quite the stunningly viral bingewatching potential of The Untamed.
The hit web novel, Mo Xiang Tong Xiu’s Mo Dao Zu Shi (Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation) forms the basis for the series, which has already been adapted into animation format.
The Untamed features numerous firsts
The series stars Xiao Zhan (肖战) of Chinese boy band X NINE and Wang Yibo (王一博) (famous from Chinese-Korean boy band UNIQ). Given that these two young actors are two of China’s biggest stars, it’s no surprise how bright the spotlight on The Untamed has shone among young-adult fans.
The premise of The Untamed involves a collision of worlds, in which Wei Wuxian (Xiao Zhan) and Lan Wangji (Wang Yibo) which to bring peace to their realms. The two are known as “cultivators” – possessing magical powers – brought together to fight antagonists and play sleuths for various crimes and mysteries.
One of the cleverest draws of The Untamed is the strong contrast between the personalities of Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian. Lan Wangji is melancholic and introverted, while Wai Wuxian is amoral, aggressive, and extroverted. The juxtaposition is electric.
The Untamed courts strong controversy in China
The novel Mo Dao Zu Shi features a clear homosexual theme between Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian. Westerners might not even notice such a thing these days, but “boy love” in China remains very controversial with the public and authorities alike.
Perhaps in response to this, it seems marketers took the savvy approach of spreading rumors that The Untamed featured girlfriends for the two heroes. While this may have prevented China’s notoriously authoritarian communist censorship from cracking down, it also reduced interest in the series temporarily – that is, until it became clear the rumors were false.
Instead, The Untamed carefully toes the line in portraying the protagonists’ relationship as brotherly, while clearly insinuating there is a lot more going on than on the surface. Mo Dao Zu Shi, on the other hand, explores a straightforwardly explicit homoerotic situation.
Wang Yibo & Xiao Zhan are a big part of the success of The Untamed in striking this delicate balance, as their performances subtly signal the secret, taboo truth of their love. The acting and writing keep a lid on this hot steam for the entirety of the show’s impressive 50-episode run.
The Untamed turns censorship to its advantage
Fans of the story assisted marketers online via crafty use of intentionally misleading hashtags such as “socialist brotherhood” to misdirect censors away from the new adaptation. The Untamed benefited hugely from this effort, being allowed to air freely and drawing massive audiences.
The Untamed must be seen to be believed
The Untamed, simply, is incredible television. Its sophisticated story is just complex enough to be interesting but still followable. Perhaps its greatest strength is the amazing slow burn of its love story. Wei Wuxian & Lan Wang Ji are highly dynamic characters whose arcs often head in unexpected directions, to our delight and fasincation.
The semi-hidden signs of romantic love between the leads are probably much more powerful than an overt portrayal might be, giving the story a deeply emotional throughline.
The Untamed is a classic case of taking limitations and using them as walls of a creative sluice to greatly increase its affective pressure. As such, we gladly submit to the detail and passion of its epic unfolding story arc.
Watch all 50 episodes The Untamed on Netflix.