This scene, from episode 25 of The Untamed, might seem like just another tense moment between Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji, the latter of whom has expressed reservations about the former’s newly honed powers of demonic cultivation; but to fans of Mó Dào Zǔ Shī, this particular moment in Baifeng Forest represents something else entirely. In MXTX’s novel, it’s our heroes’ first kiss, though Wei Wuxian doesn’t know it at the time. He’s still blindfolded from the archery contest, and is relaxing against a tree when Lan Wangji, overcome with desire, suddenly kisses him passionately, leaving Wei Wuxian bewildered but aroused. In the drama, however, these events are omitted.
Instead, in the drama’s fraught moment between the two estranged cultivators, their protracted silent gaze stands in for the kiss, just as it does with the show’s heterosexual romantic pairings (e.g., Jiang Yanli and Jin Zixuan, who also never kiss during the drama). This crucial editorial choice—to render all romantic kisses as evanescent, lingering moments of eye contact—both isolates and elevates an instant of connection as being intangible rather than tactile. Similarly, 知己, zhījǐ (variously translated as soulmate or lifelong confidante, in this scene) becomes a more important term for the two men’s connection than something as quotidian as partner or husband.
Thus, ultimately, it isn’t only the Chinese government’s censorship of homosexual content that endlessly defers the anticipated signifier of the kiss; the way in which The Untamed intensifies that deferral leaves open a space into which fandom can and does enter to craft its own version. Per Heidegger, “What withdraws from us, draws us along by its very withdrawal, whether or not we become aware of it immediately, or at all….And what withdraws in such a manner, keeps and develops its own, incomparable nearness” (What Is Called Thinking?). Fan artists are drawn to recreating the Baifeng Forest kiss because it’s a textual moment that’s near and dear to them; the show’s excision prompts a fannish desire to reinsert the scene, one so important that fans replace it with gorgeous illustration when it is left absent.
[The author’s gratitude goes to Charlene Fu and Daria Sinyagovskaya for their invaluable help with translation and permissions, and to Louisa Ellen Stein for both permission work and the video edit itself. We have done our best to reach out to all the artists for permission and citation specifics. If you have a question or concern about your work, please let us know! Art credits: artist/s unknown, beggarmountain, darkgreyclouds, HARMONIA3784, i_kaguya, Lehanan_Aida, mangmu_luv, minahomine, minorujoeling, Mukbank, mmungnothing, qianerbai, starrequiem, zhengdu23333, and Weibo users 出尘公子, 九条轮, 无苗小走尸, 狐狸大王a, 鯉魚老大爺, 來一口脆皮鴨, Kie / 翻着白眼的羊蛇, shimercury, and Zeii, as well as official MDZS art.]