Tearjerker film portrays true story of China's medical progress
A new film has soared to critically-applauded triumph and great box office success, while capturing a phenomenal story reflecting China’s medical reform and progress since the early 21st century.
New talents meet old talents
“Dying to Survive” is a drama inspired by real life that uses dark humor to portray the struggle for survival of leukemia patients who resorted to asking a drug dealer to smuggle unapproved, cheap drugs from India into China. The drug dealer later finds his redemption and becomes a hero. The film is the work of emerging director Wen Muye, with the support of two big comedy filmmakers, Xu Zheng and Ning Hao.
This also marks the fifth collaboration between Xu and Ning, yet this lucrative summer season is the first time in 12 years that the two have teamed up. In those years, the two have been trying to discover and help new directing talents and good screenplays. This time they served as executive producers and bet on Wen, who rose to prominence in 2013 for directing the award-winning short film “Battle” at the FIRST International Film Festival in Xining, Qinghai province. “Dying to Survive” is his first feature-length film.
The 117-minute “Dying to Survive” is more on the serious side than the making-people-laugh side, but still carries a positive message. “I have always paid attention to realistic subject matter, and want to give people hope from despair,” Wen told China.org.cn. “I will continue to make this kind of heartwarming film.”
An instant hit
The popularity of the film has continued to rise since its premiere at the 21st Shanghai International Film Festival, where it received seven rounds of standing ovations. In recent days, limited advanced screenings have begun around China and the film has taken in more than 150 million yuan (US$22.53 million) at box offices, a staggering test result. Some film critics are calling it China’s “Dallas Buyers Club” meets “Schindler’s List.”
The good news led the producers and distributors to release it one day ahead of schedule, on Thursday, and on its opening day – a normal working day – it grossed another 160 million. This brought the total gross to 323 million yuan (about US$48.52 million) even before its original release date of Friday arrived.
Meanwhile, on the film review site Douban.com, the film’s rating stands at 9/10 based on 153,700 reviews from users, a rare high score for a domestic-made film. Industry insiders have already predicted it will hit the 3-billion-yuan (US$450 million) mark in the near future if the full potential of the film is unleashed.
“I believed ‘Dying to Survive’ will surpass ‘Operation Red Sea,'” actor Zhang Yi said excitedly after attending an advanced screening in Beijing on Tuesday. Dante Lam’s “Operation Red Sea,” which Zhang starred in, grossed 3.64 billion yuan (US$546.94 million) earlier this year and is the second highest-grossing Chinese film in history.
From real life to the screen
“With courage, facing reality and challenges, the film is a work of conscience, responsibility and love,” director Gu Changwei said in praise of the film.
The power of “Dying to Survive” is drawn from a true story. Lu Yong, a textile entrepreneur who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002, proceeded to smuggle into the country the unapproved Indian-made generic version of Gleevec – originally developed and manufactured by Swiss drug company Novartis – for himself and many others to get treatment at an affordable price. The man was detained by police in Yuanjiang, Hunan province in 2014 for allegedly selling counterfeit drugs. He was seen as a charitable hero and later more than 1,000 leukemia patients wrote to China’s authorities begging for mercy. The prosecution dropped the case against him and released him in 2015.
His legend touched Han Jia’nyu, a new screenwriter in the industry, after she saw a TV program about him in 2015. “I cried many times when I searched for information about this man,” she said. Han also admitted that when she created the script, she was influenced by the Steven Soderbergh film “Erin Brockovich.” This was her first script to be adapted into a film, thanks to director Ning Hao who was also touched by the story.
Her script was then reworked by the director Wen and another script writer, who changed the leading role from a leukemia patient to a drug dealer, in order to make the film more dramatic. But this move angered the original inspiration for the story, Lu Yong.
“I never wanted to make money from my fellow patients,” Lu said, “I thought this film would hurt my image. I don’t want to say I’m a hero, but I’m just a patient who also helped others somehow. The role in the film is very different from myself.”
But after corresponding with the film’s creators, Lu Yong started to understand the creative changes that were made. He was satisfied with the final cut of the film after viewing it at an advanced screening held in Tsinghua University on Monday.
“You can rest assured that the audience will understand and see it clearly,” Xu Zheng, who stars as the main character in the film, told Lu at the ceremony after the screening, “The drug dealer part belongs to me, the hero part belongs to you.” Lu was relieved after receiving a standing ovation and round of cheering. That night, the film’s producers and creators also pledged a donation of 2 million yuan (over US$300,000) to China’s leukemia patients.
A reflection of progress
Lu also said the film portrays what happens when people can’t afford the high price of imported drugs. He agreed with the message at the end of the film that the situation is improving thanks to recent efforts by the government.
To address the issue of overpricing and to ease the financial burden of cancer patients and their families, the State Council of China pledged in May of this year to adopt a combination of different measures. They include removing tariffs from imported cancer drugs, slashing VATs and altering import procedures, as well as prompting procurement by the centralized government and the incorporation of much-needed cancer drugs into the medical insurance reimbursement catalog.
“It is very different now; very few patients approach me for Indian drugs,” Lu added. “This film reflects that era, and also reflects the progress of China.”
A touching moment occurred at the end of the promotional event at Tsinghua University, during which the audience members en masse turned on the phone flashlights to shine starry lights of hope.
Lu’s friend Yi Ran and fellow patient Li Qun, who is also a retired policeman and poet, stepped up on stage to read a poem by Li that served as a tribute to life: “Life and death are very close / To bloom or to fall takes only an instant / A long road lies ahead, but heaven and sunshine are not actually far away / With the coolness of autumn rain and the warmth of the morning sun / I come back alive from heaven, and know spring is everywhere in the world.”
Source: china.org by zhang rui