50 Episodes at 45 minutes each.
The Untamed Will Grab Your Attention by the Roosters
Upfront if you’re here to catch Crouching Tiger-style fight scenes, you may have made a wrong turn at Albuquerque. If you need it, you can find gorgeous CGI and battle scenes wrapped in a great story at Ever Night. See the roundup mentioned below for a basic synopsis.
Instead, The Untamed is character-driven, dressed with battle scenes and a genuinely engaging tale of friendship. Rich with clans, wars, alliances, murder, sleight-of-hand relationships and deeply rooted bonds, it sets the scene for divisive conflict.
There’s a lovely exploration of the interpretation of good and evil here, and the difference between face value and true intent. If you’re paying attention, you may find yourself – like so many characters – wondering who’s really wearing the black hanfu.
We noted on a story about great Chinese drama The Untamed was on our ‘to view’ list, particularly because it’s so well-loved by fans. Obviously, we needed to see what all the fuss is about.
There’s been quite a bit of news surrounding this series, from source material changes to the leads and to fans. Here we’ll review the original 50 instalment series that’s available worldwide on Netflix.
Absolutely, half a hunnit episodes is a commitment. Or a rare treat. But after watching a few chapters you’ll get why this drama is so cherished.
The beginning is slightly confusing with shifts back and forth in time and tons of players. It starts from the middle – where that crappy CGI just happens to hit you between the eyes. But you’ll quickly appreciate the dive into the story rather than spending several less-tense hours on set-up.
The backstory does come and before long relationships, alliances and prejudices start dropping into place. Ah, so that’s who he is…
Like many Chinese dramas, everyone has at least two names, a title, a nickname… It wouldn’t be un-useful to have a map, clan guide and family trees Lord-of-the-Rings-style to show all the interconnections. But that might be giving some of the mystery away.
If it’s overwhelming, a 20-episode ‘Special Edition’ highlights principals Wei Wuxian, aka Wei Ying and Lan Wangji aka Lan Zhan. They’re pretty compelling on their own so I can imagine it’s a fan favourite too, digging straight into the heartstrings.
With the original, while admittedly the graphics aren’t up to much, there’s a lot of beauty to be seen here. And not just with lead actor Sean Xiao (Xiao Zhan) voted Top Beauty World’s ‘Most Handsome Man 2020.’
A Chinese singer and actor, he plays charmer Wei Wuxian. You’ll also find him in The Wolf (Viki, Amazon), Douluo Continent (Viki) and the upcoming Ace Troops, Jade Bone Ballad and The Oath of Love. He also leads 2019 film Jade Dynasty (Amazon, Viki, Tubi).
Wang Yibo, Chinese actor, dancer, competitive motorcycle racer and TV host depicts Lan Zhan. Find him in dramas Love Actually (Viki), Gank Your Heart, Legend of Fei (Viki) and others. He’ll also play key roles in upcoming dramas Being a Hero, Private Shushan College and Luoyang.
To give you a little insight into the personalities, in a world where losing your ability to fight is grounds for falling on your sword, protagonist Wei Wuxian names his trusty weapon ‘whatever’ and strives to sample the best liquor wherever he wanders.
Whip-smart, he’s undeniably cheeky, using wit to charm his fans and bite his foes, but only when completely necessary. He’s an unorthodox guy in a world where discipline is most prized.
His counterpart – polar opposite to the fidgety Class Clown – is Lan Zhan. He’s serene like a cool pond, deadly serious and controlled about pretty much everything. A clear candidate for haemorrhoids, he says very little and strictly avoids colouring outside the lines. Except with his bestie – the ONLY person who can wheedle him into doing things he ought not do. But they don’t start there and you’ll soon see the creation of a steel-strong friendship from a rocky start, odd-couple-style.
Whilst the leads provide eye candy, you’ll also find other captivating figures for whom you’ll feel compelled to cheer. Wen Ning/The Ghost General is beautifully misunderstood. If you’re a sucker for an underdog, you’ll have found him in Wen Ning.
A rapper/singer in boyband M4M, Yu Bin personifies the Ghost General in his first TV role. Watch him swell to god-like avenger taking down hordes of battle-honed swordsmen and retaliating on behalf of his decimated clan.
Alternately, when not in attack mode, he’s often bewildered or mercilessly teased by children and awaiting a rescue by ‘master’ Wei Wuxian. This character is wonderful – as an up-and-coming actor, Yu Bin will be one to keep an eye on.
And you can. Once you’ve started, you may find that you can’t get enough. We’ve got good news – The Living Dead is a spin-off movie with two of your soon-to-be favourite side characters – Wen Ning and Lan Sizhui. Zheng Fan Xing plays Sizhui and can also be seen in Sweet First Love. But wait folks, there’s more… The Untamed: Fatal Journey is an added offshoot film focusing on the Nie brothers.
What started as web novel Mo Dao Zu Shi (Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation) steadily evolved. First as a printed book, then manhua (comic), donghua (animation), audio drama, drama series and movie spin-offs. Many having won awards, there’s even a mobile game in the works, further testament to the adoration of the chronicle.
Author Mo Xiang Tong Xiu (a penname) is also known for novels turned animation Heaven Official’s Blessing (Netflix) and The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System.
With an ancient-era setting, The Untamed is listed as ‘xianxia’ a fantasy genre focused on the pursuit of supernatural powers. A subset/modern update of wuxia (previously discussed in our The Devil Punisher review), it broadly encapsulates Chinese stories of martial arts and chivalry.
The Untamed controversy is on the alternate relationship development between our leads from the original novel. While the drama view handles it like bromance, allegedly the relationship in the novel is more intimate. From what I understand, the choices have been down to Chinese media censorship laws.
As besties who understand each other, it still works. However, keen devotees have been known to flag symbolic moments as proof the story remains true to itself. One example is a scene with a drunken Lan Zhan offering Wei Wuxian a stolen pair of roosters. You get the round-about idea.
The block to getting top marks at The Review Geek is the action and CGI. It’s just a little too 1980s Clash of the Titans (Apple TV+) if you know what I mean. That just seems poor for a 2019 production, no matter the focus. Even with fight scenes on the clunky side, the battles are not so bad as to make them unwatchable. Just don’t look too closely and instead focus on their faces, where the real fight is taking place.
Overall, the levels of charisma alone offer stress-free enjoyment, even enmeshed in a slurry of mêlées elevated by a subtly woven whodunnit. With fifty 45-minute-long eps, there’s a lot to take in and enjoy. No rush – binge at will. Then tell us what you think!
Is The Untamed in your queue? If want to hear more about the tight 20-segment Special Edition or the spinoff movie, The Living Dead, starring Yu Bin and Zheng Fan Xing or even the second spinoff The Untamed: Fatal Journey, give us a shout.
Dare I offer to review the donghua (Chinese anime) version, Mo Dao Zu Shi aka The Master of Diabolism as well? We’re keen to know what you’d like to see next.
Verdict - 8/10