I have made no secret of the fact that I have become obsessed with The Untamed (if you have seen any of my recent posts you will see how often I manage to bring it up even when it has no relation to the content of the post!)
Based on a Chinese BL (boys’ love) web novel by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu called Mo Dao Zu Shi (roughly translated to Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation / Founder of Diabolism) has become a bit of a global phenomenon since it aired last summer. I was slightly late to the party (I didn’t start watching it until November after it became available on Netflix) but I have more than made up for it since!
I have re-watched the whole series (all 50 episodes!) twice now, plus the Special Edition (which is basically 50 episodes compressed into 20 episodes for international audiences, with more of a focus on the Wei Wuxian / Lan Wangji relationship that was more subtly portrayed in the 50 episode run, down to having to be mindful of Chinese censorship).
Along with the novel and the live-action series, there is also donghua series (an animated version), a manhua (comic book) adaptation, an audio drama adaption and two spin-off movies from the live-action series (one of which The Living Dead has already aired in 2019, the other Fatal Journey is due to release next week).
The series is absolutely fantastic and has completely taken over my life so I thought it was about time I posted a review!
Wei Wuxian, also known as the Yiling Patriarch, is a person who is feared and despised by almost everyone. As a powerful and deadly cultivator, he became known for his abject cruelty and power, causing the deaths of thousands. He was only stopped when he was killed by Jiang Cheng, once almost as close as a brother to him.
However, the truth isn’t quite as simple as the legend makes out. Was Wei Wuxian really the villain he was made out to be? When he is resurrected following a spell by a mentally unstable young man called Mo Xuanyu (who offers his own body in exchange for Wei Wuxian exacting revenge on those who had wronged him), it is unclear what his motivations will be. Will he seek vengeance against those who had once wronged him?
One person who is happy to see Wei Wuxian is Lan Wangji, an upright young man whose heroics have cultivated legends of his own. The two have a shared history and bond that has surprised all who have known them. Can they both clear Wei Wuxian’s name and find out once and for all who has actually been the mastermind behind all of the unfortunate events that have befallen the cultivator world?
Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo star as Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji respectively. Both are mesmerising in their roles and I cannot think of anyone more perfectly suited. Xiao Zhan imbues Wei Wuxian with a carefree spirit and boyish charm, completely at odds with the widespread belief that Wei Wuxian is someone to be feared and hated. Wang Yibo is a revelation as the stoic and unemotional Lan Wangji. His ability to convey how he is feeling in tiny micro-expressions is utterly enthralling.
Both actors are compelling to watch and really give life to their characters. The chemistry between them is off the charts. Although nothing can be explicitly depicted due to censorship, it is clear that these two characters are deeply in love. Filled with lots of longing looks, and artful yet powerful interactions, their bond is clear to see for anyone who is looking but sub-textual enough to skirt past the censors! It’s a masterclass in subtlety.
The cast of supporting characters are fantastic too! Wang Zhuocheng and Xuan Lu are brilliant as Wei Wuxian’s adoptive siblings Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli. Wang Zhuocheng has the daunting task of making the hot-headed and stubborn Jiang Cheng likable and manages to succeed whilst bringing a vulnerability to the character too. Yanli is an amazing big sister to Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng – supportive and loving, caring and emotionally reassuring. She proves that strength doesn’t always lie in being physically powerful.
I also really loved Ji Li as the seemingly incompetent and weak Nie Huaisang and Liu Haikuan as Lan Xichen, Lan Wangji’s serene and kind elder brother. I would also be remiss not to mention Meng Ziyi as Wen Qing and Yu Bin as Wen Ning – the cutest siblings that ever lived! And of course, I cannot forget Zhu Zanjin as Jin Guangyao – the sly and smooth manipulator that also manages to be completely sympathetic at the same time. Also, all of the Juniors – love them all!! Not to mention Xiao Xingchen, Song Lan, and Xue Yang… the whole cast is outstanding and there are too many for me to keep singling out standouts.
The story is initially confusing for the first two episodes but please stick with it because it gets so good! The first couple of episodes are set after Wei Wuxian is resurrected but then episode 3 flashes back to the past and shows how he ended up becoming (unfairly) the most feared person in the cultivation world.
It depicts his first meeting with the moral and strict Lan Wangji and how these two ended up defying all expectations and becoming soulmates. How they were torn apart again and again, until Wei Wuxian’s untimely demise. This is a story about second chances and overcoming huge obstacles. It’s about friendship and family. Love and sacrifice. It is such a moving story with plenty of action but lots of character moments. The relationships between the characters propels the story and although there is a lot of plot going on, it is at heart a character-driven narrative (my favourite kind!)
to sum up
If you haven’t watched this series yet, I urge you to please, please, please check it out! It is just too amazing not to share with everyone. It might just be my favourite series in recent years, maybe of all-time, along with Deep Space Nine (my other top favourite). The acting is amazing, the story is moving and you have a love story that manages to be so powerful without ever actually being explicit. It is all the sweeter and intense for being subtle in its depiction. Wangxian 4eva!!!
It will tear your heart to shreds but then mend it again. It will make you lose your mind but then turn around and give you hope again. It is just so good. It is not without its flaws, some of the special effects look a bit cheesy at times, but it is easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things.
some additional thoughts and musings
- I cannot believe how well Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo became their characters – it’s actually quite funny when you see behind the scenes videos of the two of them. They are clearly very close in real life but their personalities are complete opposites – Xiao Zhan seems more zen and peaceful and Wang Yibo is a chaotic little gremlin (I adore him!)
- There is so much other content for this series – I am planning on reading the translated novel soon but I am also going to check out everything else along with the author’s other works… will keep me busy for years to come!
- Merch for days – I can’t seem to stop buying Untamed-themed merch (check out my STS posts – they are chock full of the merch I have bought week to week!) I am seriously obsessed…
- I also have an urge to watch everything Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan have ever been in (along with the rest of my favourites from the cast) and have been listening to the soundtrack religiously (as well as the individual music the cast have put out whether solo or as part of groups – what a talented cast this is!)
- My Twitter feed seems to be less about books these days and more about The Untamed haha!
- I might just be crushing slightly on Wang Yibo (and also Xiao Zhan) despite being way older than them both – I feel like a cougar but just look how pretty… 😂