Movie on Chinese patients buying Indian cancer drugs triggers massive pre-release buzz
A new Chinese movie based on the real-life story of a man who bought affordable but unapproved cancer medicines from India for himself and a thousand other patients is creating a sharp pre-release buzz.
Dying to Survive, which has China’s A-list actor’s Xu Zheng acts as the lead, was shot partly in Mumbai and got rave reviews at the recently held Shanghai Film Festival. It is also getting the thumbs-up from critics, who saw it at preview screenings earlier this week.
“Xu will play a drug dealer in the feature, which is loosely based on the true story of a Chinese leukaemia patient who smuggled unapproved drugs from India to get affordably-priced medicine for himself and 1,000 others,” state-controlled China Daily reported.
In real life, Lu Yong borrowed the idea from the Oscar-winning film Dallas Buyers Club, which tells the true story of Ron Woodroof. Matthew McConaughey played Woodroof, an AIDS patient who smuggled unapproved drugs into Texas for treating his symptoms and distributed them to others who had the same disease.
“The 47-year-old textile businessman bought a month’s supply of the Indian generic version of Gleevec, originally developed and manufactured by Swiss drug company Novartis, for around 200 yuan ($32),” the newspaper report said.
“Lu was detained by police in Yuanjiang, Hunan province, and his case of allegedly selling counterfeit drugs is still under investigation,” it added.
Reports about Lu became national news and were widely discussed on China’s social media with many saying that he was a hero. It brought a sharp focus on the expensive cancer treatment in China with medicines purchased from western countries while the same drugs are available in India at much cheaper prices.
“The Indian-made drug Veenat, costing Lu about 3,000 yuan, or around $480 per month, while the Swiss made Gleevec he had been taking before cost him nearly eight times as much. He almost went bankrupt after two years of taking Gleevec,” the report said.
Lu’s actions were, however, illegal as medicines unapproved by Chinese authorities are regarded as illegal here. Zhang Qingsong, Lu’s attorney had then said that his client was not selling drugs to make profits.
“The Indian company offered preferential pricing to him, but we cannot take them as profits,” he had then said.
Dying to Survive follows Lu’s story but the protagonist in the film isn’t shown to be suffering from cancer.
China Film Insider quoted a theatre manager as saying that the film could make over three billion yuan ($450 million) from its theatrical release.
“Dying to Survive debuted in China last month at the Shanghai International Film Festival and won acclaim from festival attendees. At that point, it was projected that the film’s box office would reach one billion yuan ($150 million),” the leading entertainment trade publication said.
“However, the ongoing preview screenings further boosted confidence in the film’s box office performance,” it added.