As a huge fan of anything Wuxia, it was no surprise that I would eventually surrender to the tide of popularity and binge watch The Untamed. Again, it was no great shock that The Untamed would have me tormented night after night until I finally completed ALL fifty episodes (as I write, I’ve started the show again.Well what do you expect? It's just insanely SPECTACULAR). What may surprise you is my viewpoint on The Untamed is probably unique and maybe even a little controversial.
May I mention that the C-drama The Untamed (no, not the book Mo Dao Zu Shi – I haven’t read it) is one of the most FLAWLESS representations of the human condition I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing in technicolor with subtitles? I’m just giddy thinking about it. Its like “The Starry Night” by Van Gogh or Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” but ever so much more!
Ah, Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji… I just can’t get enough of these two.
Yes, I know that the genre of this book is LGBT and yes, I know that the creators of The Untamed had to change some of the story to get by censors. Yes, I understand there are undercurrents and stuff that as a hopeless heterosexual, I just don’t understand and often miss. And yes, I’m not a complete idiot, there is obviously more than friendship between Wei Ying (aka Wei Wuxian or the Yiling Patriarch) and Lan Zhan (aka Lan Wangji or Hanguan Jun) and several other couples as well. Because of my inexperience with this type of literature and my love of fantasy in general, I’m left watching this show with my own preconceived notions and perceptions. What was left, was the most incredible display of humanity played out by a few dozen men. Yeah, sure there are few token females but other than Wen Xing, and Yanli they were either caricatures, miserable, whiny women or annoying stereotypes (but that’s for another article).
The Untamed touched me on a deeper level than I was prepared for (okay, more like sucker punched me in the face.) Clearly, I was an unsuspecting victim of this show. It's as if these characters are now tattooed on my chest like I was branded (almost like Wang Ling Jiao does), and I cannot stop thinking about them. If you’re interested in what my heart is saying, keep reading with caution. Trying to keep this spoiler free and shorter than a novel (heck…I could do a master’s thesis just on this show), I will attempt to explain one reason I love The Untamed (I have about 73 reasons if you’re interested) and why it is such an unparalleled masterpiece. Its all about the LOVE, BABY!
All in the Family
Sigh. Wei Wuxian, Yanli, and Jiang Cheng (Gif by Ohsehuns)
As one of five siblings, I can tell you that my brothers are the biggest pain in my behind and yet some of my greatest supporters. The same can be said for these three siblings. The Untamed demonstrates the layers upon layers of complex relationships found in families of all types. Jiang Cheng (Marius Wang, he just killed it), Jiang Yanli (Xuan Lulu, I loved her) and Wei Wuxian (Sean Xiao, wow, just wow), from the first moment the three are together on screen, its poetry in motion. (Although doesn’t the very 1st scene blow your mind after you meet the three siblings? Genius, just genius). Yanli tries to maintain the peace between the bickering brothers. Despite Wei Wuxian not being related by blood, she unconditionally loves Wei Wuxian and he loves her right back and they both love Jiang Cheng, completely and without question. Each member of this incredible family showed they would risk anything for the others (don’t get me started on the mother, but that’s another article).
Before you think the Jiang/Wei clan is too perfect to be true, there is considerable conflict in this family (like a ton, a gigantic ship load full – as in a giant tanker boat). BUT what family doesn’t have conflict, right? The Untamed taps into something here that I don’t see played out so eloquently in other Wuxia. This family’s dynamic is portrayed flawlessly showing the imperfections, the affection, the sacrifices, the anger and pain in all its brutal glory. There are dozens (maybe even hundreds –pay really close attention to Jiang Cheng) of examples peppered throughout this show of each of them demonstrating a fierce love, massive heartbreak and disappointment and don’t forget unquestionable devotion towards each other and their family. Honestly the show could have just been about these siblings and I would have been satisfied. But it wasn’t.
Wen Qing and Wen Ning. Sibling Love!
No epic poem only has one stanza. The Untamed didn’t stop there either. Other sibling relationships that were sweet, beautiful and heart-wrenching was that of Wen Qing (Zoey Meng, the strong and not annoying female) and Wen Ning (Paul Yu, he was so good). Who out there didn’t love the loyal Ghost General from the first moment he graced the screen and in chains no less? There couldn’t be one person who would disagree that Wen Ning and Wen Qing didn’t have their ups and downs like any family but there was strong affection between the two.
The same with Lan Wangji (Wang Yi Bo, can I adopt him?) and his older brother Lan Xichen (Liu Hai Kuan, he did a fantastic job). The two brothers might not have been as lively or fierce as the Jiang/Wen clans, but there was a strong amount of affection between the two. Was there a more understanding big brother than Lan Xichen? And he was a bit of a wing-man (even my unschooled eyes could pick that out but that’s also for another article). All in all, The Untamed does an outstanding job painting the portrait of love found in families, with all its masterful messiness.
Love Thine Enemy
Oh dear, Xue Yang (Is it bad that I loved his character?) GIF courtesy of Tenor
Not by any stretch of the imagination do I believe that Xue Yang (hats off to Wang Hao Xuan) had the capability to love anyone. It is quite obvious from the first moment he graces the screen, all excited to get on with his evil deeds, this dude, at best, was a psychopath, but more so, a true sadist at heart. But that is what makes him such a fun character! And it gets even better! When he experiences love and kindness from just one single person over several years, something shifts inside the nasty creature. Oh, he is still the detestable murderous Xue Yang we know and love (I do wish he had more screen time, like a lot more). In the end, he is willing to beg his sworn enemy for help. Inconceivable, when we look at every single twisted and bent action of his sorry life. This dude was one sick and twisted individual from the get-go.
However, as I watch Xue Yang’s own expression of loss and torment near the conclusion of his story line, I was touched by the change in the hideous monster. After those expressions of love, whether it was a smile, companionship, a small but meaningful gift, and even a little first aid, he came to care about someone in his own demented way. With all those layers upon layers of love and affection we see played out on the screen throughout all 50 episodes with many characters, I think the Xue Yang’s arc is the most fascinating. Xue Yang’s story weaves together a cautionary tale that teaches small acts of kindness can profoundly affect another person even one who’s less than sane-ish. Isn’t there a lesson to be learned watching Xue Yang, despite his vicious demeanor? And can we get a whole show about his character while we’re at it?
Lan Zhan & Wei Ying… sigh... am I alone in this obsession?
The Untamed has taught me that there are some tepid overused words out there like romance, bromance, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, spouse, friend. All are just way too shallow of a description of what plays out before our very eyes between Wei Ying and Lan Zhan. Bromance or romance, neither come close to describe the beauty of “WangXian” (yep, gorgeous piece of music important to the story and popular meme, go figure). Soulmate seems more fitting to use in this situation to explain the deep and abiding connection between Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian. Just like any classic novel or fine painting, there is the surface view and what’s boiling underneath, and Lan Zhan and Wei Ying’s relationship is deep as in ocean deep (Mainly because Sean Xiao and Wang Yibo both delivered decidedly powerful performances).
As I completed The Untamed, I found the changes made for censorship created a breathtaking depiction of that elusive soulmate, you know: the type of person whom you love and loves you back no matter what choices you make. That special someone that you laugh with, you cry with, you mourn with, you argue with, but the love never stops but only grows deeper. Words like bosom or lifelong companion were used in one of the translations but it was soulmate that hits the nail on the head describing Wei Ying and Lan Zhan’s connection.
The person who fills that definition in my own life, well that person is not my romantic companion (shrugging: it just turned out that way, go figure). So, when I look at Wei Ying and Lan Zhan’s incredible relationship on the screen, I can’t help but reminisce on the bond I share with my confidant and soulmate. Sure, there are disagreements, and just like Lan Zhan, my best friend is the first one to correct me when I’m in the wrong or out of control. I could spend days, weeks, months, years with this person and it wouldn’t be enough, but just like Wei Ying and Lan Zhan, when my friend and myself are apart for months at a time, our affection does not dim. Something warm and fuzzy inside me just bursts witnessing the tenderness and warmth Wei Ying and Lan Zhan exhibit on the screen and I pray that everyone on earth has at least one relationship such as this one. Wei Wuxian says it best when he states that, “Having one soul mate in life is enough.” You said it, bro! I’ve watched a lot of TV since I was but a bouncing tyke on my mother’s knee. For the life of me, I’m not sure if I’ve ever been as touched by a relationship as I was by these two (and yes, I did have some tears at the end. I’m so freaking sentimental).
What is Right with the World
Brothers: Lan Xichen and the pleasingly perfect Lan Wangji
I know what you're thinking. It's okay if you disagree with my terribly uneducated opinion of this glorious C-drama. Anthony Bourdain (the chef and writer) once said “I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you.”
But nonetheless, here is my opinion: With the removal of the overtly outward and verbal expression of romantic affection, The Untamed becomes something else entirely. In fact, the entire fifty episodes strips away they usual displays of physical affection like hugging and kissing and the words “I love you”. What’s left is pure love on its most basic level that anyone (and I do mean anyone, including my very religious grandmother) can relate to.
Whether it's love of family, showing kindness to those who don’t appear to deserve it, or finding at least one person in this vast world who loves you and will ALWAYS take your side; these are all powerful forms of affection. We see the power of love manifested in the show time and time again, whether it's just through a gaze or lowering of the eyes (again, Sean Xiao and Wang Yibo just brilliant with those looks), or actions as witnessed between Wei Ying and Lan Zhan and the Ghost General. And how about the love those three have for the younger generation in the drama?
And just one more family photo: Wei Wuxian with little Yuan
In this world, it's so easy to focus on the differences between us, categorize each other like a game of Jeopardy (I’ll take popular demographics for 300, Alex). The Untamed was filmed and released in mainland China, and I live as about as far away from that country as you can get both geographically and philosophically. If this show reached into the inner core of me with its beautiful tentacles, pulled out my soul and made me examine my ideals of love and relationships, it’s not some pop-culture piece of fluff that will fall out of fashion with the most recent C-drama offering. I suggest that The Untamed is a universal piece of art that reflects aspects of humanity’s ability to show love and does so beautifully… almost like something by Homer, a Shakespeare play, or a Rembrandt painting. So if you haven’t watched The Untamed and are looking to be moved as much as entertained, I suggest you give it a try.
Nonetheless, there are more reasons to watch this show than just the art of genuine love (but that’s for another article). PLEASE! Grab a box of tissues, lots of water to stay hydrated (or a jug of Emperor’s Smile, unless you have Lan Zhan’s constitution), but drop your preconceived notions of what this story is about before you press play because The Untamed is an creative entertainment experience you don’t want to miss and it costs a lot less than traveling to the Louvre or the Guggenheim.
Have you seen The Untamed? Am I the only one out there that has fallen in love with EVERY aspect of this show? Please give me your thoughts on such an epic piece of art.