The Untamed: Conveying the Charm of Chinese Traditional Style

On June 27th last year, an online series named The Untamed based on the hit novel Mo Dao Zu Shi (also known as Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation) starred by the well-known Chinese actors Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo, aired on Chinese mainland. It sparked a craze in China as soon as it was broadcast, especially among young people. Within one year, The Untamed was aired in Thailand, South Korea, Japan and other countries, where it gained great popularity. The drama can also be watched on the well-known platform Netflix. Overseas, The Untamed has attracted numerous fans. 

With a Chinese Xianxia background, the story was built around two prominent figures from the five major sects created by the author: Wei Wuxian of the Yunmeng Jiang Sect and Lan Wangji of the Gusu Lan Sect, who work together to explore the once-buried truth of old years and uphold justice for the world.

The series features its shaping of characters, especially for Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji and the emotional bond between them. Though young and unruly, Wei Wuxian dare do things he feels obliged despite dangers and difficulties. Lan Wangji is in contrast extremely elegant and cautious in words and deeds. The two men whose temperaments are completely opposite, met each other when they were teenage disciples at school. One day, when they flew Kongming lanterns for blessing together, Wei Wuxian made a promise to “eliminate the evil and help the weak to be worthy of his heart”, which happened to be precisely the goal of Lan Wangji. With such a common ideal, Lan Wangji, who adheres to the “three thousand sect rules”, was also moved by Wei Wuxian’s ambition and bravery. In later years, the two became lifelong confidants on their way to cultivate themselves as guardians of justice for all in the world. The Untamed also sublimated its main theme by presenting the complexity of human heart and the double-edged power of people’s words, and by sparking a discussion about what on earth is the right path in the plots around the two.

Besides, the series also boasts its traditional Chinese elements, which are exquisitely instilled into each detail of its music, costume, makeup, props and so on.

In terms of music, Lin Hai, a famous Chinese composer, acted as the music producer for the whole play. With a combination of ancient Chinese music style with contemporary popular elements and the use of a large number of traditional Chinese musical instruments including Guqin, Guzheng, Dizi and Xiao, he created an elegant and refined auditory atmosphere reminiscent of Chinese ancient times for the audience. In the theme song Untamed, performed by the two leading actors Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo, the soothing, melodious sound of Dizi and the deep, calm tone of Guqin add radiance to each other, which coincides with the characteristics of the two protagonists who use Dizi and Guqin as their weapons in the play. Along with the soul-stirring melody and the touching lyrics, the song conveys the message from the two that they will remain true to their original aspiration in their endeavors to safeguard the word regardless of all kinds of hardships they have met. The bright, clear voice of Xiao Zhan and the low, warm voice of Wang Yibo, in match with the touching lyrics and the melancholy melody, remind the audience of the impressive plots in the story, making the song a great hit. The soundtrack was even chosen by a team participating in the Cup of China ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating as its background music. Apart from that, the character songs of The Untamed also won great popularity. Qu Jin Chen Qing, Wei Wuxian’s character song, with his iconic Dizi running through it, built an image of a man that stands steadfast in pursuing his own aspiration after vicissitudes of life, unfettered by any restriction of people’s remarks. Bu Wang, Lan Wangji’s character song, begins with a stroke of Guqin. The interaction between Guqin and Dizi later embodies not only Lan Wangji’s questioning about the good and evil of humanity, but also his concern for his beloved friend.

The Untamed is even more ingenious in details such as costumes, makeups and props. According to the art director of The Untamed, the rivers and lakes managed by the five major sects in the play are decided based on geographical landforms, taking the “mountains” as watersheds, creating five different cultivational sects (as major communities of cultivators in the world of The Untamed). Each of them has its own family emblem, specific costume and makeup, and iconic family buildings featuring different styles. According to the characteristics of different sects, the art design matches them with color elements of the Chinese Yin, Yang and the Five Elements. For example, Qishan Wen Sect is mainly crimson and dark silver; the Gusu Lan Sect is white and dark blue; the Lanling Jin Sect is red gold and orange yellow; the Yunmeng Jiang Sect is snow green and light purple, and the Qinghe Nie Sect is orange brown and gold, which correspond to the “fire”, “water”, “gold”, “wood” and “earth” in the Five Elements. The separate design of black and red elements of Wei Wuxian is in sharp contrast to the other five sects, which gives the audience a strong sense of visual impact. With these delicate designs, traditional Chinese cultural elements are integrated into the whole play, improving the depth and quality of the series.

In addition to the dominant colors of each sect, their family emblems also harbor different meanings. For example, the Gusu Lan Sect is represented by cirrus cloud pattern, since the Gusu Lan Sect is located in now “the city of Suzhou, Jiangsu province”, a water town in the south of the Yangtze River enveloped in mist all year round. The Jiang Sect, who represents Yunmeng, uses a nine-petal lotus pattern. The Yunmeng Jiang Sect is now in “the city of Wuhan, Hubei province”, home to numerous rivers and lakes rich in lotus root, so it uses the “lotus” as a symbol. Lan Wangji’s sect resides in the “Cloud Recesses”, the name of which has its origin in an ancient Chinese poem. The original poem sentence means that the hermit lives in a mountain hidden deep in clouds, his whereabouts being a mystery. The name reflects the low-key, taciturn style of the Lan Sect. The architecture style of the Gusu Lan Sect is designed as semi-hidden lying pine bamboo courtyard, corresponding to the elegance and humbleness of the sect. It gives more prominence to the landscape of Huizhou-style gardens in the design of its courtyard, with pine trees, bamboo forests and waterfalls to create the landscape.

The Yunmeng Jiang Sect pursues freedom and comfort, which is the characteristic of the family. Therefore, in overall design, a chivalrous sense of freedom is integrated with a warmer tone. Their residence “Lotus Pier” mainly highlights the theme of “unrestrained leisure”. In terms of color selection, it mainly takes natural colors such as those of trees and turquoise to reflect the liberal nature of the sect. Only with such mountains and rivers can cultivate a person like Wei Wuxian who is free and eclectic. The motto of Yunmeng Jiang Sect “Attempt the impossible.” is adapted from works of the Confucius. Wei Wuxian has been practicing this motto for his whole life. Not bound to the law, he dares break the fixed thinking and adhere to what is in his heart. That is why he can live freely and unrestrained, while still persistently cherishing the heart of justice.

In addition, The Untamed incorporates a lot of Chinese etiquettes and customs, such as flying Kongming lanterns mentioned earlier, which is a way for ancient Chinese to extend their best wishes. What is more worth mentioning is one of the most important props in the play, the Chinese seven-stringed zither, Guqin, used by Lan Wangji. Guqin has been listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the world’s second batch of intangible cultural heritage of mankind. With the popularity of The Untamed, more and more young people got to know and appreciate the art of Chinese seven-stringed zither.

On the first anniversary of its broadcast of The Untamed, drama fans all over the world have once again pushed the Chinese-style play to the attention of the public in their own way. Hoping this elaborate production will be seen by more and more people in this summer.

*On the first anniversary of #TheUntamed1st airing, as a special gift for fans!

The Untamed (无羁) – Official Audio (OST) | 2020 Special Ver by XiaoZhan / WangYibo


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