Korean romance writers have a strange affinity for killing off their female leads with cancer. You’d think leukemia was as common as plastic surgery.
But Chinese audiences have been losing their taste for these cliche stories that flooded the country during the last decade’s “Korea Wave.” The recent film Go Away, Mr. Tumor turns Korea’s favorite trope upside down by depicting a Chinese girl fighting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – with optimism.
And the kicker is that, for the most part, it’s real.
The movie is based on the life and death of Xiong Dun, a cartoonist born in 1982. She loves bears and Isaac Newton and always draws herself with bear ears in her cartoon books.
She was a little-known online cartoonist who drew a few popular comics before 2011, the year she was found passed out on the floor and naked.
Weeks of tests revealed that Xiong was dying of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
But even after receiving that bad news, Xiong remained an imaginative person who drew pictures about mature women and their love affairs, the challenge of renting a house and the struggle for independence.
Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, pain, fear of death and grief didn’t stop Xiong from smiling and enjoying life.
Xiong started recording her sickness in the comic series Go Away, Mr. Tumor, which poked fun at her crush on a handsome doctor and insistence at wearing makeup even after she lost all her hair.
Her comic was published on Sina Weibo and Tianya BBS in 2012, and her funny style and optimism attracted and inspired many Chinese celebrities. Xiong never sought sympathy even though she knew her disease was terminal.
In the summer of 2012, film producers found Xiong in the hospital and talked about shooting a movie based on her comic. Xiong asked to participate in the production but died that same winter.
Her final Sina Weibo post was a silly message about how her mom tried to force her friend to wear more clothes.
Go Away, Mr. Tumor finished filming in 2014 and debuted in theaters on Aug. 13 this year. It generally avoided playing up Xiong Dun’s experiences and personal life in its marketing.
Some viewers went to the cinema just to see Daniel Wu, the movie’s handsome lead from Hong Kong. But in the end Xiong’s death moved almost every viewer to tears.
Many films are based on the lives of people who die under tragic circumstance. Most end up using that death as their main selling point.
Producer Li Liangwen said Xiong wanted to see a movie that encouraged people to stay optimistic. Li said a portion of the film’s proceeds would be donated to the Xiong Dun Sun Fund, a fund created by Xiong Dun to support other sick people.