Adapted from a novel by Mo Dao Zu Shi titled Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, The Untamed is a xianxia fantasy that stole the world’s heart.
I’ll admit I’ve been spending a lot of time racking my brain on how to start this review. The Untamed has been broken down countless times, from in-depth character analysis to book-to-drama comparisons and plot dissection. It not only won hearts when it aired, it gave people a lot to think about.
Years later, The Untamed still has people talking, the interest in it renewed daily. The recent release of the novel’s English translation by Seven Seas is garnering even more attention. Despite that, I’m veering away from the book in this write-up and focusing entirely on the drama. As a full-time writer and the guardian of an actor in the industry, I have first-hand experience with how entertainment works and how adaptations are brought to the screen. When they sign their books over to a production company, most writers are fully aware that its screen adaptation will depend on its format and the showrunner’s vision. We don’t expect it to be the same onscreen that it is on the page.
Rather than compare the drama to its novel, manhua, donghua, audio versions, etc., I’m going to talk about what made me fall in love with the drama and why I’ve rewatched it on countless occasions since its original air date.
The Untamed is, first and foremost, a character-driven work of art. The actors and the characters they portray are the entire reason for tuning in. Set in a complex world of cultivators who follow a specific code of ethics, The Untamed begins its journey with the death of the witty, rebellious Wei Wuxian (actor Xiao Zhan) before taking the viewers back in time to where it all started and how his death came to be.
At fifty episodes, it is nearly impossible to break the drama down except with an episodic analysis. Therefore, I want to use this time to talk about the three things that endeared The Untamed to me.
The Blurred Lines Between Good and Evil
The reason why The Untamed is so relatable and why it continues to remain so with each passing year, especially in the times we live in, is how it portrays good versus evil. As a people, we’re raised with preconceived ideas of what’s right or wrong depending on where we live and which culture we’re a part of. Division exists in the world because of this, because we’re all raised to believe something different and because we’re all influenced by our governments and media.
In The Untamed, the main character Wei Wuxian not only dares to question those in power, he dares to make decisions based on his intuition rather than a set guideline. He judges people not by where they come from but by who they are as a person. He makes friends easily, daring to become close to those others fear, such as Wen Ning and Wen Qing from the Qishan Wen Sect. His ability to read people doesn’t always play in his favor, but he continues to look at the world realistically rather than based on how people think he should view it.
Wei Wuxian ends up existing in a grey area between right and wrong, on the blurred lines between good and evil. He’s incredibly easy to understand because most of the world also lives inside this grey area. Many of us feel like we don’t belong in one way or another to our society. Wei Wuxian represented that for so many of us. He dared to be himself, and he was persecuted for it. In today’s world, we are victims of both society and social media. Daring to be different in any shape or form seems to permit people to judge others based on those differences. While the world is full of people who dare to be like Wei Wuxian, it is just as full of people who prefer remaining on each side of the line, either strictly following all the rules or living life breaking them. The blurred line is for those who realize some rules should be followed and others are meant to be questioned. This is the line Wei Wuxian walks. This is the line we walked with him. This is the line where we shared his pain.
This blurred area made me want to rewatch The Untamed time and time again because each watch brings something new. Each watch makes me question my heart, asking myself things I may not have asked myself before.
Actor Xiao Zhan became the character, effortlessly and beautifully allowing us to experience Wei Wuxian intimately and powerfully.
The Love Story
Although promoted as a bromance due to censorship, The Untamed is undoubtedly an epic romance between leads Wei Wuxian and Lan Wanji (actor Wang Yibo). The book itself is a gay romance, and its adaptation remains loyal to their love, even with the changes.
It is one of the greatest love stories on screen. Rather than take away from their relationship, the censorship adds a nuanced complexity to it that felt more intimate than actual physical intimacy. The writers behind this project focused on the crucial aspects of any relationship: loyalty and sacrifice. And they do so on an epic level.
Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji couldn’t be any more different. While Wei Wuxian dares to be different, Lan Wangji maintains his steadfast belief in the Gusu Lan Sect and the absolute impossible set of rules he is raised adhering to.
And yet, this difference is what makes Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji so beautifully outstanding as a couple. Whether you watch The Untamed from a gay standpoint or a bromantic standpoint, the crux of what makes them remarkable remains. They made each other stronger. Lan Wangji kept Wei Wuxian from straying too far from the blurred path, and Wei Wuxian made Lan Wangji question the inconsistencies in his own life.
While it’s easy to experience Wei Wuxian’s suffering and relate to his pain, It’s important to remember that Lan Wangji suffered just as intensely. Actor Wang Yibo not only delivers Wangji to us, he does it in a subtle way that somehow makes Wanji that much more potent as a character.
By devoting himself to Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji chose to deviate from the path he’d been raised to believe was right. He chose to exist in that blurred line, in that lonely dark path with Wei Wuxian while also maintaining the part of himself that makes him Lan Wangji. He still adhered to the rules even while breaking them, and for that, I found myself completely enamored with his character. He wanted to be the man the Gusu Lan Sect could look up to while also being the man Wei Wuxian needed in his life. Somehow he created the balance he needed to do that, and by doing so, he began to change others’ perceptions of right and wrong. Wei Wuxian dared to break the rules while Lan Wangji used those same broken rules to change hearts, especially in the younger generation of cultivators.
When the rest of the cultivation world turned their backs on Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji never did. Even when Wangji questions Wei Wuxian’s intentions and choices, he still attempts to keep Wei Wuxian close. His loyalty and the sacrifices he makes for Wei Wuxian is one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the pleasure to see in a drama.
It’s easy for people to judge love, to have a standard idea of what love should be and how people should love someone. There are a dozen self-help books and dating manuals out there waiting on people to buy them because everyone wants the answers to love. And there are lots of people who still believe the classic love story is between a man and a woman.
What Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji manage to do so powerfully is portray a love story that is simply about love. It doesn’t look at gender or certain romantic ideals. Instead, The Untamed eloquently conveys a heart-rending tale of one man walking a lonely path and the man who would do anything to save him. Oddly, censorship manages to make this more powerful. Love doesn’t have to be conveyed with physical intimacy, and The Untamed goes above and beyond in portraying a deep relationship that shows love isn’t about what sex you identify as; it’s simply about being in love.
The Supporting Characters
I’m not even going to attempt breaking down each character in The Untamed and why they play an essential role. I’d need much more than a short review to do that.
The supporting cast is one of the main reasons I’m devoted to this drama because EVERY single one of them matters. Every single one of them plays an integral role in the main characters’ lives and plays a role in conveying the message this drama manages to convey. None of them are perfect. All of them are flawed.
Even the villains left me full of feelings. Whether they were hungry for power or hungry for attention, each villain walked a path as full of tragedy as it was full of darkness. From the Yi City arc to the need to control the stygian amulet, all the villains chose their lot in life.
No more is this obvious than with Xue Yang. I found myself particularly drawn to Xue Yang because of his similarities to Wei Wuxian. For me, he is a parallel to Wei Wuxian’s character, the type of man Wei Wuxian could have become if he hadn’t had the love from his sister and Lan Wangji. Xue Yang is a perfect example of how the past, tragedy, and pain often shapes us. Because of that, I hurt for him as much as I disliked him. I fell in love with that parallel.
The same goes for every single character from every sect. Even the extras played a crucial role in portraying the citizens and their reaction to the central plot, from the need to be protected by Wei Wuxian to persecuting him.
Strong writing is about making every character a crucial part of the story. The Untamed does this. From the dancing young woman at the beginning of Wei Wuxian’s journey after resurrection to the younger generation of cultivators being transformed by the story they’re brought into, everyone is utilized brilliantly.
Certain supporting characters left deeper impressions, such as Xue Yang, Wen Ning, Lan Xichen, Jiang Cheng, Wen Qing, Nie Huaisang, and Jiang Yanli, among others. But they all have an important story to tell, and The Untamed gives them the chance to tell it. They all get as much attention as the main leads, and I found that incredibly important to making this story as complete and as powerful as it is.
There is so much more I could say about The Untamed. It’s a story that challenges the norms while also dealing with revenge, deceit, greed, and love. To some extent, everyone is greedy. Everyone has a dark place inside them no one wants to admit to. Everyone wants to break free of the box they’ve been put into. The Untamed manages to look into the hearts of its main leads and its supporting cast, allowing viewers to understand them all, even when we don’t particularly like what we see in some of them. For me, this is why The Untamed is so powerful. This is why The Untamed will maintain its popularity for years to come. Times may change. Years may pass. But one fact remains. There will always be people who want to make change. There will always be people who want to dare to be different. And there will always be people who want to stifle that. These facts will keep The Untamed relevant to all audiences for generations to come.
Look past the CGI and focus on what makes this drama special. It’s a character-driven story that will stay with you long after it ends. Check The Untamed out on WeTV, Viki, Netflix, and YouTube.
Rating- 4.7 out of 5