I think it says a lot about the current state of Chinese dramas if fans are calling The Untamed “Daddy Chen” or “Boss Chen” and nearly worshipping the ground it walks on. As many are probably aware, China is pretty much censoring anything that isn’t het so fans are very careful about not making such terms trend for The Untamed. Usually, they will mockingly use “bromance” or “father-son bond” to qualify the relationship between WangXian.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that, based on prior experience, fans were more than ready to be let down once again when it was announced that Mo Dao Zu Shi was getting a live action adaption called The Untamed. Here are a few to give you an idea of what kind of “BL” content fans have gotten in the past: to start things off, we have the series “Han Zigao” which was an absolute joke, where film makers absolutely did not have an ounce of respect and basically operated with the “fans will like it as long as it’s two guys together” because the casting was trash and the acting was trashier. Another example would be ”Revive” from the novel “Rebirth of a Supermodel”, which basically combined both BL and BxG to create a monstrosity of BL baiting and ending things with one of the male leads marrying a girl (who was his sister in the novel but got upgraded into his crush). “The Guardian” and “S.C.I.” are two examples that were not as hated. While “S.C.I.” did not throw in a female lead, it did turn a beloved side BL ship into a BxG ship. “The Guardian” had amazing chemistry between male leads but it went the classic route of turning a happy ending into some kind of shit ending.
However, against all odds, The Untamed was able to rise from a 4.8 to a 7.5 rating. How did it manage that? Well, simply because it did the very easy thing of actually respecting the source material. For some reason, film makers in China have a hard time understanding that if you buy the rights to a BL story, you can’t just add a freaking girl in the middle of things and expect it to do well. The whole reason why those types of series got popular in the first place is largely due to the BL aspect so removing it is basically asking to be flamed. There were rumours that they were going to put Wen Qing as a love interest for Wei Ying but they clearly scratched that idea off the board once they saw the backlash.
The Untamed did something that is absolutely unprecedented that fans have applauded them for (and that I have briefly mentioned previously), and it’s that it basically threw caution into the air and skirted dangerously close to the edge of censorship. While never explicitly stating the romantic nature of the relationship between WangXian, they relied heavily on subtext and fan knowledge to fill in the blanks. How many of us have watched a certain scene and thought “holy shit, they even adapted this?” or “how did this get past censorship?”
Something that I will forever respect The Untamed for doing is that they made an adaptation that respected us, the fans. They easily could have mocked the genre by turning the WangXian relationship into a bait or not taking it seriously by exaggerating things. Instead of doing that, they turned to subtlety to showcase the importance of their relationship. They don’t need to scream it on top of rooftops for us to understand and it’s something that I respect. Rather than treating the viewers as idiots that can’t think, they respected us and let us figure things out ourselves which also worked in their favour. Something I also noticed is that they never really used phrases like “You are my brother” or “I view you as my brother”. While some things get lost in translation, a lot of the terms used vague enough that there is a lot of room left for interpretation.
After seeing everything that The Untamed has somehow managed to do, I hope that this will set an example to future film makers thinking about adapting the BL genre. Even now, fans are turning back to series like the Guardian and wondering why they didn’t do what The Untamed was able to do because it’s clearly doable. Given what The Untamed has achieved, I expect fans to be even more critical and less understanding towards bad adaptations and rightfully so.
Well said. Mad respect for Tencent for going above and beyond and respecting the fans and the story itself. I was originally not gonna watch the live action because I had low hopes for the Chinese entertainment industry, but I am so glad I did.