Transformative Retelling?: The Story of Wei Wuxian

(click through to Critical Commons for the video)

For the last couple of months, I’ve been working on several remix projects that synthesize vidding and videographic criticism in different ways. I’m ready to share one of them now–a 30 minute telling of the 50 episode Chinese drama, The Untamed, set to Sergei Rachmaninnof’s Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor, performed by Valentina Lisitsa & the London Symphony Orchestra.

I set out to bring together these two instances of epic, romantic creative work: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2, which has been dear to me since I was young, and The Untamed, the hit Chinese web series based on the web novel Mo Dao Zu Shi. I was thinking about questions of genre, and initially, I wanted to see what happened when I brought these two highly emotional and beloved works together, as a ship vid on steroids, in a sense. What type of transformation comes out of this synthesis of very different sources that yet seem to share some inherent ethos?

As I began to work, immediately I realized how much the evolving piece resembled another early influence of mine–silent cinema, at least as we experience it now through scores, either recorded or in person. And so I also began to think about what connections there might be between the way we’ve thought about emotion and engagement with narrative in silent cinema and in contemporary engagement with serial drama (and maybe this is also relevant in terms of the transcultural experience of engaging deeply with a drama when you’re dependent on subtitles because you don’t know the language well/at all).

As I thought about how to retell The Untamed in just thirty (well, thirty two) minutes, and how I would need to focus on certain narratives and characters over others, and whether I wanted a fully linear approach or not, I also began to contemplate the way the narrative structure of The Untamed, with its flashbacks within flashbacks and time shifting, speaks to fans accustomed to moving easily between multiple instances of the same story in fan fiction, fan video etc. And on top of that, with the release of the Special Edition on top of the book, manhua, donghua, and web series, The Untamed/Mo Dao Zu Shi itself offers us various ways through the text just as fanworks do.

And finally, as I edited, I became very aware of the aesthetics and narratives norms of vidding as they might differ from the needs of more traditional storytelling and recapping, and also to some degree of classical music. I found myself torn between very tight, quick editing following the assumed “rules” of vidding and a style that was tied somewhat more loosely to the audio to create the feel of watching a silent movie. I also found this tension between re-editing but reconstructing continuity editing so scenes and actions make sense vs. deconstructing continuity editing to follow emotional and thematic logics, as we more commonly do for vidding. I tried to hold an uneasy balance between these approaches, so that the result would be a synthesis rather than siding with one approach or the other.

If you, amazingly, watch this all the way through, thank you! A 30 minute remix is a tough ask I know. I hope though that this piece can be experienced in part or in whole. I wonder now about the difference between the experience of watching the three sections separately and watching the whole thing in one sitting. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any or all of these questions. Thanks for watching and reading!