It’s been a bit since I shared a “What Are You Watching” post because honestly, I’ve been OBSESSED with The Untamed!!! Like seriously, I haven’t gone a day without something related to this story. 😍 The description on Netflix doesn’t do it justice…
In a magical world of inter-clan rivalry, two soulmates face treacherous schemes and uncover a dark mystery linked to a tragic event in the past.
OMG, the show is really so much more and so very intricate that the summary is like describing an apple simply as red. I had no idea the first time I pressed ‘Play’. 😲 NO IDEA!!! So be warned, this is most likely going to be a long one and I’m going to do my very best to rein in my inner fangirl while not giving away too much of the plot. 🤣
Okay, so first things first. It’s been a LONG time since I was into Asian films. As a kid, I loved them. Didn’t care that I had to read the subtitles. I don’t know if it stemmed from all the karate movies my Dad and grandfather watched or what, but I really loved them. That world and art and way of living just seemed so exotic and different from the Panhandle of Florida where I lived. From live action to anime, I was here for it. But something happened as I grew older and I slowly stopped indulging in that genre. I can only guess that it was because I moved away from Florida and my family down there and the kids in my new state didn’t deem it as “cool”. I had so many other issues with trying to fit in (my accent, my autoimmune disease) that I suppose I didn’t want to add geek to the mix. Not that I ever strived to be a cool kid either. The closest I would allow myself to get was Pokemon when it was a hit.
So fast forward to the now, decades later. I’m hanging out at home while I’m on Medical Leave for my disease, and I see this pop up as a suggested show. I figured, why not. That first episode, I felt all those old feelings come back. I was a kid again but more than that, I could understand the subtle undertones that only an adult can pick up on. Yes, this is a period piece and leans heavily into fantasy but there’s a thread of the modern social morays that run throughout. Every character has a complex and well built background too. Needless to say, I was hooked and binge watched every chance I could.
The Untamed, also known as and based off of ‘Mo Dao Zu Shi‘ or ‘The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation‘, is a story first dreamed up by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. It follows the story of 2 young cultivators, Wei Ying and Lan Zhan, as they try to solve the mystery of what happened to Wei Ying in the past. Confused? Sit tight. I’ll explain. 😉 Oh, and PS… Most, if not all of these characters have alternate names. So for sake of making sense, I’m going to stick with one name then share their other names later.
The story/show opens with Wei Ying’s soul being summoned by Mo Xuanyu. Mo Xuanyu, the illegitimate son of a clan (or sect) leader, sacrifices himself so that Wei Ying can take revenge on Mo’s family. If Wei Ying can complete Mo Xuanyu’s dying wish within the alotted time, Wei Ying can remain in the world of the living. However, Mo Xuanyu was considered to be crazy and didn’t full complete the ritual sacrifice. So Wei Ying is left to try and puzzle out who, exactly, he needs to seek revenge on.
Matters become further complicated when a zombie (yes, zombie!) shows up at the Mo family compound. Using Wei Ying’s spell for summoning and capturing spirits, disciples of the Lan clan attempt to subdue the zombie. However, things go sideways and they have to call in Hanguang Jun (Lan Zhan). Having had a complicated past with Lan Zhan, Wei Ying tries to sneak away and get as far from there as possible.
Unfortunately, the fates have other ideas and soon they cross paths again. This time, the young disciples of Lan and other sects are trapped and in danger from a demon. Wei Ying attempts to save them by summoning the dead to fight the demon but Lan Zhan also arrives and realizes that Mo Xuanyu’s body is inhabited by Wei Ying. Wei Ying, a sometimes friend / sometimes enemy, that died years ago.
It’s from this point, that the show gives us a glimpse of their backstory… As teenagers, Wei Ying and his sworn brother and sister, Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli, are sent to Cloud Recesses for education. Cloud Recesses is home to the Lan Clan and the Twin Jades, Lan Xichen and Lan Zahn. As more of a free spirit and trouble maker, Wei Ying and Lan Zahn immediately butt heads. Lan Zahn is seen as the epitome of a perfect student. He is disciplined, virtuous, steadfast… albeit quite cold and reserved too. He doesn’t associate with the other students and comes across as haughty and rude. Wei Ying, by contrast, bucks the rules every chance he gets. He sneaks in alcohol even though it is forbidden. He questions the teachings of cultivation (or what Westerners would call magic). He even tries to trick Lan Zahn into looking a book of promiscuous drawings. Unlike Lan Zahn, Wei Ying is warm and friendly towards everyone and sees this experience as great fun instead of an opportunity to train as a future Sect Leader or Head Disciple.
So Lan Zahn’s uncle, Lan Qiren, and leader of the Lan Sect, puts Lan Zahn in charge of getting Wei Ying to behave and follow the righteous path of Cultivation. The two spend the next few years up until Wei Ying’s death, pushing and pulling each other from one side to the other. Both seeking and wanting to uphold justice but in very different ways. A deep respect for their differences, love for each other, and friendship between them is formed in this time. One that doesn’t appear to die when Wei Ying does.
Without giving too much away, one clan decides to rise above all the rest – the Wen Sect. After decimating the families that dare to refuse to submit (one of which is the Yunmeng Cheng clan, where Wei Ying lives with his adoptive siblings), the remaining clans… Lan, Jin, and Nie… band together to overthrow the Wen Clan. Wei Ying, having lost his Golden Core (the source of his cultivation magic) after the fall of Lotus Pier in Yunmeng, turns to dark magic to help with the war. Consumed by the negative forces and feared for his power, the clans soon turn their vitriol on Wei Ying too. As the personal losses mount and his heart becomes irreparably broken, Wei Ying decides on a suicide mission that ultimately costs him his life.
Like all the characters, Wei Ying was well fleshed out. Wei Ying (courtesy name: Wei Wuxian) is the First Disciple of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect. His father and Jiang Cheng’s father were best friends and Jiang Fengmian, the Jiang Sect Leader, took Wei Ying in as a boy when his parents died. Having been raised so close to Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli, they consider Wei Ying their sworn brother. Unfortunately for him though, Wei Ying is not only the son of Jiang Fengmian’s friend but also the son of the woman he loved before he was betrothed to Jiang Cheng’s mom. As you can imagine, rumors were rampant and it put a strain on Jiang Fengmian’s marriage. His wife thought he coddled Wei Ying too much and treated him more like a son than Jiang Cheng; the rightful heir to Yunmeng and future Clan Leader. Only when they were away from Yunmeng, did you see Wei Ying feel truly comfortable with being himself.
I think it’s this feeling of not truly being a part of his adoptive family that led him to take in and protect those that he felt were being unfairly treated as well. Tragically, it’s this choice that adds to his demise. After the fall of the Qishan Wen Sect, Wei Ying sees how the Lanling Jin Sect are treating those that weren’t even involved in the war. Women, children, old men, and healers are forced to work in prison camps or outright murdered. Being unable to stand by while this goes on, he stages a rescue using his dark arts and leads the remaining Wen families into the Yiling Mountains. It’s here that he earns the name, Yiling Patriarch.
Jiang Cheng is the adoptive brother of Wei Ying and future Yunmeng Jiang Clan leader after his father, Jiang Fengmian. Taking after his mother, he’s not as free spirited as Wei Ying. Almost taciturn and very entitled, he’s surprisingly warm with his siblings. Jiang Cheng will never show it but he loves and feels very deeply. When Wei Ying promised that they’d govern Yunmeng together as the “Twin Heroes of Yunmeng” and never leave his side, Jiang Cheng took it to heart. He was devastated to see that promise broken when Wei Ying sided with the remaining Wen. Trying constantly to get Wei Ying to give them up so he could better protect his brother from the other clans, he only gave up when the Ghost General (Wei Ying’s right hand man), Wen Ning, killed Jiang Yanli’s husband. That was the act that finally placed them firmly on opposites sides of the fence.
This brings me to the Wen siblings, Wen Qing and Wen Ning. Hailing from a subset of the Qishan Wen Sect, their families were historically physicians. Because of their strict adherence to healing principles, they adamantly refused to participate in the Wen Clan’s plans to dominate the land. However, the other clans didn’t care to see the difference and after the war, chose to try to wipe out all those carrying the name of Wen. Later, it was Wen Ning who was especially feared.
Having been attacked as a small boy by an evil spirit, Wen Ning lost a part of his soul and was kept on a tight leash by his sister, Wen Qing. Innocent, kind, and shy, Wen Ning always deferred to the stronger personalities. After the war, Wen Ning and Wen Qing were captured and sent to a prison camp. Wen Qing manages to escape and with the help of Wei Ying, she finds that Wen Ning was murdered and his body left to rot. Unable to stand her grief and the injustice of it all, Wei Ying resurrects Wen Ning and he’s given the moniker, Ghost General. Maintaining most of his personality from his life, the Ghost General is also very savage when it comes to protecting those he cares about. However, because he has no living autonomy, he’s susceptible to the control of dark cultivation techniques.
Now let’s get to our other main character and my favorite, Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan, along with his older brother, Lan Xichen, are known as the “Twin Jades of Gusu”. As part of the Gusu Lan Sect, they are the nephews of the Gusu Lan Clan Leader. Like Wei Ying, Lan Zhan lost his parents at a young age. But instead of it opening his heart like Wei Ying, it caused Lan Zahn to be more introspective and cautious. Like I mentioned before, he closes himself off from any personal or emotional connections outside of his brother. This allows him a unique sense of justice though you can place him squarely on the side of good.
As opposing forces in the beginning, an eventual warmth and mutual respect develops between Wei Ying and Lan Zahn. They balance each other. Wei Ying affectionately calls him a “fuddy-duddy” and Lan Zahn mutters “shameless” every time Wei Ying gets a little crazy. Stoic and aloof to a fault, only those closest to him notice the tight bond he’s formed with Wei Ying. He loves him. Simply. And fears for his soul as much as his life. When they do fight, it’s because Lan Zahn is trying to keep him from being fully consumed by the darkness. Consequently, it’s also the only time they use the other’s Courtesy Name when addressing each other. I found it heartbreaking to see such a familiar pair turn cold and serious with each other. Beaten later for siding with Wei Ying, he’s devastated when Wei Ying dies and shuts down even more completely. The only solace he allows himself is when he saves a young, orphan Wen boy that Wei Ying introduced him to, and brings him back to Cloud Recesses to raise as a Lan disciple.
The first to recognize that Mo Xuanyu is Wei Ying, Lan Zahn doubles down on his protection because he refuses to lose him again. To anyone or anything.
Rounding out my character section (which is by no means exhaustive of this story), is these two. Lan Xichen (played by Liu Haikuan) on the left and Nie Huaisang (played by Ji Li) on the right. Lan Xichen, as mentioned, is the older brother of Lan Zahn and First Young Master of the Lan Sect. He’s patient and trusting, even to his detriment. But he loves his little brother and the talk he has with Wei Ying about Lan Zahn’s feelings for him has all the feels. 🥰
Nie Huaisang, while not my favorite, is definitely the most interesting. He portrays himself as weak and scared. A clan descended from butchers, Nie Huaisang is an anomaly. He’s a follower, refusing to carry a sword and always running from a fight, he’s a stark contrast to his older brother, Nie Mingjue. However, we learn that he’s crazy smart and a brilliant strategist – orchestrating from behind the scenes the search for truth after Wei Ying comes back from the dead.
Because the war is not the end and Wei Ying’s resurrection serves to complete more than just revenge for Mo Xuanyu. Wei Ying was framed from the beginning and a more sinister plot has been running unmatched in the background.
After consuming every last second of The Untamed on Netflix, I learned that it was based off the novel mentioned in the beginning of this post. Now what self-respecting book nerd could watch the film adaptation and not read the book?! Written in Chinese, it took me a bit to find the English translation online but I did and I have it bookmarked. However, I also learned that it differed slightly from the show. (Duh! Don’t most? 🙄)
Written originally as a “Boy Love” drama, the love scenes between Wei Ying and Lan Zahn were censored out by the Chinese government. 😟 Don’t be dismayed completely though. Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan are AMAZING at conveying love through their acting. Subtle looks, standing just so, words and moments shared. You’d have to be dumb and blind not to pick up on it. I was speechless and completely swept up. Heart ripped out, cuddled, stomped, nursed back by love, and stitched back in my chest. It’s been a long time since I have been able to call myself an obsessed fan of an actor but these two have put in a STELLAR performance that’s unmatched to anything I’ve seen lately. I would gladly watch whatever show they’re in from this day forward. No questions asked. I don’t know if they’re gay in real life but if they are and they become a couple, I’d completely STAN IT!!!
Really, all the casting was brilliant. It truly isn’t fair how some of those men are absolutely gorgeous. Song Ji Yang, anyone?!?! Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe it. If placed in a room with them, I wouldn’t know which way to look and I’d probably have a stupid grin on my face the entire time. Go ahead and Google the cast! I’ll wait. 😋
But I digress… I’ve also found and watched Season 1 and 2 of the donghua version. Donghua, for those that don’t know (like me), is an animated show. I hear Season 3 is set to come out in August. I started the manhua (or graphic novel) version and plan to start the actual novel when finished with that. Lastly, thanks to the numerous fandoms, I learned that WeTV has Special Edition live action episodes that are closer to the book and were able to avoid some of the censorship. #SavedOnYouTube Then I will probably watch the Netflix version again. Haha! Oh yes, I plan on consuming EVERY version of this story because I love the characters that much! ♥
So have you seen The Untamed? If so, what did you think? If not, go watch it!! Now!!! 😆