Chinese Film Raises Awareness on Cancer

By Faith Magbanua, July 24, 2018 06:07 AM

Xu Zheng(Alizila/ Screenshot)

Cancer is China's number one killer, with nearly three million people dying of the disease each year and in light of the current epidemic, there seems to be hope for people with cancer in China.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has called for cheaper and more accessible cancer drugs after a successful new film sparked public debate on the issue.

Li spoke about the film "Dying To Survive", which stormed the box office and gained a massive $390m (£296m) in its first two weeks.

The film, tells the fictional story of a shopkeeper who imports cheap, Indian drugs banned in China for profit.

Real life dilemma

Although China has universal health insurance, medical facilities and the standard of treatment are distributed unevenly. Urban areas are generally better served than the countryside, and everyone usually has to pay something towards their care.  The health care is sure but the difference between those of the urban versus rural areas can be distinguished immediately.

As a result, the film had managed to make a huge impression on the public.

Even before its release, the Chinese government recognized that it had to improve the accessibility and price of medicine. Prior to that, just May this year, it got rid of tariffs on all imported cancer drugs.

But the film seems to have alerted Premier Li to repeat the promise to improve treatment for more than four million Chinese people who are diagnosed with cancer each year.

The episode also unveils something else about China: It is a one-party state in which citizens have few avenues to express their opinions and influence decision-making. But even here, leaders cannot afford not to listen to what their people are saying.

What makes the film a hit?

The film is inspired by the true story of Chinese businessman Lu Yong, who was arrested five years ago for importing a generic cancer drug.

The case against him was dismissed after public debate of the issue according to the report of AFP.

Xu Zheng, a popular comedy actor and director, plays Lu, a smuggler who develops compassion for the patients who buy his drugs.

Aside from the protagonist of the story, the main antagonist of the dark comedy is the pharmaceutical industry.

"It is real life," one Beijing cinema-goer, Dr Zhang, was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal. "I know patients who had leukaemia [and] ended up losing both lives and money."

The low-budget film touches a "social wound" about not being able to get hospital treatment, said Gao Wei, an industry expert at the China Centre for Globalization.

"As a film that criticizes what is actually happening, it could only become popular because it got the level of criticism right to pass China's censors," Reuters quoted him as saying.

The film's appeal can be measured by comparing it with big-budget fantasy epic Asura which made just $7.5m when it opened this past weekend.


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