ARTS / TV
Hit adaptation of Chinese ‘boys’ love’ novel debuts on Netflix
Published: Oct 29, 2019 06:03 PM

Promotional material for The Untamed Photo: IC



Chinese actor Wang Yibo, who skyrocketed in popularity this summer for his role in the hit drama The Untamed, was named as the tourism ambassador for the Hengdian Film and Television Base in East China's Zhejiang Province on Sunday at a local film festival. The move comes two days after the show was released overseas on streaming giant Netflix. 

The director of the drama, Chan Ka-lam from China's Hong Kong SAR, was also given a best director award at the event, known as the Hengdian Film and TV Festival of China.  

The recognition of the two's talent demonstrates the show's unimaginable success since it first aired on Chinese streaming platform Tencent Video on June 27. 

Four months later, the show has nearly 6.5 billion views on the platform and is still ranked at the top of the platform's popular drama list. 

After earning a huge following in Thailand and South Korea, the show's release on Netflix on Friday marks its US and Europe debut. 

Hastags related to the drama's release on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo had earned nearly 240 million views as of Tuesday morning, with many fans saying they are excitedly waiting for it to become a hit again.

Industry analysts noted that the move was in step with Netflix's strategy to expand in the Asian market by increasing its library of titles from the region.

Analysts also said that Netflix aims to establish a stronger foothold in the Chinese market by purchasing Chinese dramas and gradually establishing more cooperative partnerships with Chinese platforms. 

Unexpected hit 

The drama, starring Wang and Chinese actor Xiao Zhan, is adapted from the fantasy web novel Mo Dao Zu Shi. It tells the story of two soulmates - Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji - facing treacherous schemes in a magical world of inter-clan rivalry and uncovering a dark mystery linked to a tragic event in the past, according to the introduction of the drama on Netflix. 

Although the show got off to a rough start - it only had a 4.8/10 on Chinese media review site Douban - it gradually became an unexpected hit, not only in China but also overseas, including in countries such as Thailand and South Korea. 

On September 21, hundreds of thousands of fans attended a fan meet in Bangkok, Thailand. The cast, crew and others donated 600,000 Thai baht ($19,678) to the people of Ubon Ratchathani Province, which had been hit by floods. The act of charity earned significant praise from Chinese and Thai fans alike. 

The drama has been translated into 11 languages, including Thai, Korean and Vietnamese. It will also be released next year in Japan, according to Chinese media reports. 

Some Chinese netizens expressed concern about whether foreign audiences, especially those in the West, will be able to understand this type of Chinese fantasy tale, but many others expressed confidence.

"The performers all act very well, which will help Western viewers understand the story, just like how we enjoyed Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter even though we couldn't grasp them 100 percent," Sina Weibo user Yuemeiwuyue posted, noting that the show's beautiful music, sets and costumes are sure to impress Western viewers. 

Staying true to the original  

Talking about the success of the drama, Jenny Cheng, a Chinese fan of the show, said she felt that one of the reasons the show has proven popular is that it closely follows the original novel - a homosexual love tale that is part of the genre in Asia known as BL, or "boys' love" - and thus won over a lot of the novel's fans. 

The adaptation keeps most of the plots from the original, although the romantic love between Wei and Lan has been changed into more of a brotherly friendship, several fans told the Global Times.

"The two lead characters in the novel stand up to the strong to fight for the weak and the show has perfectly expressed this vital point," a fan going by the nickname Yigeshuaitao on Sina Weibo told the Global Times. 

In the show, as well as the drama, Lan always trusts and helps Wei even after the latter is framed and slandered by others and begins practicing dark magic. 

"I admire their relationship, their trust in each other and what they go through together. I wish I could also have a partner like them, that is why I like the two and cherish their relationship so much," another drama fan surnamed Xu told the Global Times. 

The show's respect for the original novel and, more importantly, the way the performers have continued to interact outside the show, has drawn in fans and helped promote the show, a Beijing-based industry insider told the Global Times on Saturday.  

It has become a landmark guiding the way for other producers, said the insider.   

The Untamed did not succeed based on just the series alone. 

The success was actually built on the foundation of a very mature production chain that includes the novel, an animated series and promotional events such as fan meets and concerts, according to a Sina Weibo post from entertainment blog Huayu.

The production team cultivated a fan base by essentially running the fan club themselves, it said.

More popular works such as Mo Dao Zu Shi are sure to be turned into successful shows in the future, as the adaptation has shown Chinese studios just how profitable such a brand can be, the post noted.
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