Updated: Aug 1, 2022
After a LONG wait, it’s finally here - the FIRST drama review on starland. and it’s a doozy!
Well.. okay, yeah, it’s a doozy. To be frank, I have no idea how I’m going to even go about tackling this one since it’s huge, widely popular, widely LOVED, basically becoming a cult classic, and LONG, with a lot of content.
It’s not like it’s a shock, right, since the title gave it away? But this review will cover *drum roll*, The Untamed!
Now, I do know this with my drama reviews. I will assume you have either: a) watched these dramas already and will not be spoiled or b) don’t care about spoilers. So, I guess if the above scenarios don’t pertain to you, read with caution and/or enjoy!
I Think We Can Start With Some General Knowledge
Most of us know this drama (and the correlating content) as The Untamed, but it’s also often referred to as Chén Qíng Lìng (CQL). It originally aired in June 2019 and, even to this day (in almost 2022!!!!), it is well-loved and well-watched.
The drama and donghua (animated series) are based off the original book, Mo Dao Zu Shi (MDZS) or The Founder of Diabolism or Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, written by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu.
I mentioned before this drama was long. Most Chinese dramas (c-dramas) are LENGTHY and this one is no exception. Watching at the full cut, we hit 50 episodes. There is a “Special Edition” (maybe I made up that title, I can’t recall exactly what they call it?) on YouTube that is a SEVERELY cut down version of this drama mainly focusing on our main storylines and relationships. I think the YouTube version is 20 or 25 episodes? Idk, man, but why would you want less Wei Wuxian and less Lan Wangji?
Our main characters are played by by Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan, Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian respectively. Essentially, we follow these two soulmate cultivators (yes, that’s what they are - deal with it) as they travel their world to solve mysteries and find answers to life’s biggest questions. Their journey leads them, through forward storytelling and flashbacks, to overthrowing the big bad and abolishing evil where they go. Heavy with action, adventure, politics, character development, plot twists, comedy (I laughed a lot), and fantasy while taking place in a historical setting, fans of these genres and traits will likely find a lot of enjoyment here. And while it may be a bit understated and subtle on paper, this drama is also definitely a romantic one.
Why Do I Love This Drama So Much? (beware, I probably won’t shut up)
So, I mentioned this drama was romantic just a little ways above, right? It’s somehow subtle and overwhelming at the same time and so much of it has to do with understanding why. This post, I’m sure, will not be revolutionary and the information in it will not be new, but it hopefully can revive some discussion amongst the people that come across it regarding the content.
Understand that fans are not delusional here: this romance storyline is canonically meant to be a “boy love”, lgbt+ one. The original text is, um. * nervous laughter * WAY more explicit, clear, and graphic than any official visual representation will ever portray, and we’ll get into that a little more later, but the reason behind the difference in content is due to China’s infamous censorship laws.
Culture crackdown laws became a massive deal some years ago (roughly 2016, I believe, for TV and film) in China and Chinese censors banned anything they decided was “vulgar” or “immoral” from being viewable on television. This included all depictions of homosexuality, among other things. Interestingly, this censor allowed for some of my favorite aspects of this drama to come to life: the determination of the cast, crew, writers, and director to find every loophole and beat the censorship in creating the most true-to-text relationships and storytelling possible. Some of my favorite mentions are:
a) Xiao Zhan (Wei Wuxian) constantly calling Wang Yibo (Lan Wangji) a terrible boyfriend on set (we love and appreciate the actors supporting the true agenda here)
b) the writers still having Lan Wangji give Wei Wuxian roosters when he is drunk (which is a Chinese wedding tradition known as life chickens or route-leading chickens)
c) having the Lan headband literally bind Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji (thanks for literally marrying him, Lan Zhan, good call)
d) RABBITS, Y’ALL. THE RABBITS. Rabbits are everywhere in this, as we all know, and to keep it simple, rabbits are symbols of queerness in China. They are perfectly utilized in moments where there would be tenderness in media where their relationship would not need to be censored.
e) towards the end of the drama, after the hand-tying and the chicken exchange, there is a moment where Wei Wuxian brings Lan Wangji to his ancestral hall to pay respects to his dead relatives, something you would really only do with your family or partner (Jiang Cheng is not happy, but when is he ever, really)
The cast, crew, and writers spent a lot of time to really build the world and modify the script. The art concepts and attention to detail, with the set, the scripts, the costumes, the headpieces!, the props, and with the characters, really shows through the final production of the drama. I will always feel so warm at the way Wei Wuxian’s dialogue and script evolves with his character development, just like I will always ache every time you can hear Lan Wangji’s pain at missing his soulmate for sixteen years. Writers, you done did that. I just.. really love the writing in this drama. I love it so much.
Each actor received character specific cards, providing everything from trait details to physical characteristics, and the time dedicated for the staff and the actors to have this material can be seen throughout the present and flashback storylines in how the audience views the story. The entire production did a wonderful job setting up the atmosphere of the scenes, I always appreciate the foley artists and their craft, ESPECIALLY in dramas like this, and while the special effects in every c-drama can always bring about laughs compared to more “realistic” action scenes, I find the ones shot and filmed in The Untamed much less comical than ones I’ve seen in other dramas. Also, I am a total bitch for Lan Wangji’s guqin. Every single time he materializes it and is able to send off waves of spiritual power to obliterate the baddies, I am starry-eyed. The props and special effects become my best friends, at this point. And so does Wang Yibo, but he’d hate that so don’t tell him.
The cinematography is actually stunning, too. There is a scene in the beginning-middle (it’s so long, y’all, idk how to call it) of the drama where Wei Wuxian is running off to start his island of misfits and he encounters Lan Wangji. They’re in the rain (a scene Yibo mentioned he really enjoyed shooting, what a precious bean) and Wei Wuxian is on horseback and Lan Wangji is on foot under a lovely painted umbrella. The shots we get in this interaction, from their dialogue to just the angles, I am. ugh. send help. Especially when the scene is about to end and Lan Wangji is alone and he drops the umbrella and looks up to the rain? bye. Now, I wouldn’t say I loved the cinematography more than Goblin’s (which, oooh boy, wait until we get to that review), but the style of this drama has a color all it’s own. Even Word of Honor, which has a similar energy and plot line, does not even remotely satisfy me when my heart begins to yearn for The Untamed. There are so many scenes in this drama that you could literally screenshot and make a background for your desktop, your phone, your tombstone, you could get it tattooed on your face; your options are actually endless.
Another thing with The Untamed, kind of like a signature almost? I love the close-ups of the actor’s eyes so much. In this drama, eye acting!! is!! everything!! Wang Yibo is the one to watch the most with this, it is truly how Lan Wangji emotes, although Xiao Zhan can really punch you in the gut, too. Watch Lan Wangji’s eyes and you will see them soften at Wei Wuxian, tear up despite trying to stay stoic, get intense when he’s angry, etc. Although, the acting in general? is just? so good? Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo did a phenomenal job. The way they matured their characters from the flashback to the present storyline is, honestly, some A1, 93837289/10 work. I think it might be my #1 favorite thing about this drama. Perhaps because the focus is less on the side characters, but to me, it’s not as obvious of a “growth” from past to present with them. However, make no mistake that the “side characters” in this drama are still acted very well. This entire cast is wonderful, from protagonists to villain to anti-hero. The villains make you hate them (UNPOPULAR OPINION BUT JIANG CHENG IS ON MY SHIT LIST), the heroes make you love them, the strong ones make you root for them (goddammit, I love Mianmian and Yanli), and the anti-heroes make you want to shake them (lookin’ at you, Wei Wuxian).
I need to start wrapping this up, right? I’ve been going on sUCH a long rant. But, I can’t end this section of why I love this drama so much without mentioning the OST. Y’all, the OST is stunning. Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan sing on it, as do other cast members, and their voices alone just make my heart so happy. The instrumentals are so gorgeous, and with traditional sounds and vocals combining, I find the OST so soothing to listen to. On its own, it’s a true treat, but as a backing to the drama, it really pairs well with the mood and tone of the scenes and the energy that the actors put into their roles and characters.
All of the moving parts that made this drama possible, every little piece, just made it so enjoyable to consume the experience over and over. Not only am I able to rewatch the live-action drama multiple times and still fall in love, I am able to reread the original novel, rewatch the donghua, and even read and enjoy the official concept art book. I just love this universe so much.
Other Content: If You Can’t Say Goodbye to Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji
I mentioned before the original text is a little spicy. A few friends found the book-Wangji to be a bit unlikeable, as he is quite possessive and jealous or forceful, some felt. I understand that men with that type of characterization can be a bit off-putting or upsetting for some. I wanted to go ahead and disclaim that ahead of time, if you haven’t read the original text but wanted to try. I personally don’t have problems with that type of character so I didn’t necessarily mind.
Shock and surprise, the original text is lengthy. I think it's like, 125 chapters? I still found this read enjoyable and I have reread it twice now. Will I read it a third? Probably very soon since digging back into this universe has me missing it something fierce..
In addition to the original text, WeTV has provided a donghua version. I watched the entire series, all three seasons, and was very happy and warm and liquid-heart-y when I was done. Did I cry? Yes. Why? Because it was fantastic and the ending was so joyful and happy and positive. Of course, with such a fantasy-based story, one of the major benefits of having a donghua version is seeing a more “realistic” version of what the spiritual attacks and cultivation would look like. It’s such an entertaining and heart-warming watch. I enjoyed it much more after watching the drama, since it follows it very closely, so I personally recommend that order.
Okay, look, I’ve been rambling for a hot minute. In any case, I hope you enjoyed my (I’m sure) inarticulate ranting! If you haven’t watched The Untamed yet, I hope maybe I’ve convinced you to give it a try. Or maybe I made you hate it more, who knows. Until we chat in the next review!