A film on a Chinese merchant, charged with selling “fake” Indian generic cancer drug to hundreds of Lukemia patients four years ago, is ready to hit theatres and expected to win big at the box office as the movie has set social media abuzz with its “moving” story.
Directed by Wen Muye and co-produced by renowned directors Ning Hao and Xu Zheng, Chinese noir comedy Dying to Survive earned an estimated 115 million yuan (USD 17.3 million) from advanced limited release screenings that ran from Saturday to yesterday.
The film has also become one of the most discussed topics on Chinese social media, where moviegoers have passionately described the story as a “moving and realistic five-star work” and how they used up “packets of tissues” to wipe away their tears while watching the film.
The film is loosely based on the story of Lu, who has been regarded as a hero of sorts for importing and selling less expensive generic anticancer drugs from India to Chinese mainland chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) patients who couldn’t afford the exorbitant licensed drug produced by a Swiss pharmaceutical giant.
Originally a textile merchant based in Wuxi, East China’s Jiangsu Province, Lu was diagnosed with CML in 2002 at the age of 34.
Paying 23,500 yuan (USD 3,500) a month for the drug produced by the multinational company prescribed by the hospital over a period of two years, Lu was driven to the edge of bankruptcy.
As he set about looking for alternative treatments, Lu discovered Veenat, a generic India-produced drug that is almost equivalent to drug produced by the Swiss company in terms of dosage, strength and quality.
The drug cost an average of USD 600 for a month’s dosage, a price which later dropped to USD 30 over the following years, according to a Global Times report in 2015.
Though Veenat and other generic versions of the Swiss-made drug are approved drugs in India, they are not officially licensed in China and are therefore considered counterfeit drugs.
After trying the medicine himself, Lu shared the information about Veenat with his fellow patients in an instant message group and later helped hundreds of mainland CML patients who couldn’t afford the foreign drug buy the generic version from India, state-run Global Times reported.
Lu was charged with promoting counterfeit drugs in 2014 and was arrested in January 2015 for failing to appear in court.
Fortunately, more than 1,000 patients whom he sold drugs to petitioned the court for his release and two weeks later prosecutors dropped charges.
While retaining most part of Lu’s experiences from 2004 to 2014, ‘Dying to Survive’ made several major adjustments for “artistic reasons”, Wen, the film’s director, told reporters at the film’s Beijing premiere on Monday.
By portraying the hero Cheng Yong (played by Xu Zheng) not as a leukemia patient but as an adult store owner who starts importing medicine for money before having a change of heart, the film “showcases the profound evolution of an ordinary person,” Wen explained.
“I met Mr Lu for the first time when we started filming. He is an ordinary person but possesses a heroic spirit and benevolence that moved us all. I am very proud to be part of this film,” said Xu, the film’s lead actor and co-producer, at the event.
Lu, who also showed up at the Monday event, admitted that he was not happy about the film’s portrayal of the main character at first, but gradually came to understand why the changes were made after talking with the production team.
“It should be noted that I never set out to make money from importing medicine,” Lu said.
“China’s drug market has undergone dramatic changes since 2015… I was one of first group of CML patients to turn to Indian-produced generic drugs, many fellow patients came to me because, at the time, CML drugs were not covered by our medical insurance system,” he said.
Featuring a social issue that barely any recent Chinese films have touched upon, the film has been applauded by many film critics and moviegoers for its realistic portrayal. This praise has helped push up the film’s “want-to-see” votes on Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan to an impressive 145,000.
With this high anticipation and prescreening earnings, some film analysts predict the film may earn 3 billion yuan (USD 451 million) in total at the box office.