The year 2014 was a tough one for American-born actor Daniel Wu.
He had to give up many things, including his six-year-old talent agency, in order to take care of his ageing mother, who was suffering from a relapse of colon cancer.
Her subsequent death devastated the 40-year-old Wu, but he decided that he had to move on and resume his career in the Hong Kong entertainment industry.
Still, he rejected many film offers until he found one that he said touched his very soul.
It’s none other than Go Away, Mr. Tumor, a Chinese romantic comedy film where he plays the role of an oncologist.
The movie is based on the true story of a young lady cartoonist, Xiong Dun, who shared her own struggle as a cancer victim through her light-hearted comic strips.
“I think I have an obligation to tell this inspiring story, letting more people know it,” says Wu.
Wu plays Dr. Liang, a guy who always wears a frown on his face as he deals with the death of his girlfriend.
As he plays the role, Wu is haunted by his mother’s death.
“I stayed with my mother at the hospital ward for two months,” he recalls. “I soaked in so much unhappiness over there.”
The doctor’s initial prognosis was that his mother would be around for about six months to one year, but she left much earlier.
The shooting of the film allowed Wu to digest what he had undergone, but it also forced him to face once more the unbearable event.
“I don’t understand why it’s possible for some people to choose to become oncologists,” he observes. “If I were one, I would be very depressed as I had to inform others of the bad news and their remaining days.
“Unlike obstetricians, oncologists face death every day, and what they could do is oftentimes only to help relieve the symptoms.”
Little did he expect that the experience of meeting various doctors during the final days with his mother would help in his research on the character of Dr. Liang.
In fact, Wu admires the character of Dr. Liang, who remains hopeful that he could save lives.
In the movie, the 30-year-old cartoonist is the brave one, spreading love and making jokes when she is with friends and family.
Some people have criticized the film for just skimming over the issue of death.
Wu disagrees. He believes the movie succeeds because it captures the essence of the human spirit in the face of certain death.
Wu says when he watched Xiong Dun’s interview, he was reminded of Morrie Schwartz in the movie Tuesdays with Morrie. Though the professor’s health is failing, he could still motivate people around him.
Death isn’t always about sadness, says Wu. It is part of the life cycle. Instead of soaking in grief, those who are left behind should recall the happy memories of their time with the deceased.
Wu misses his mother — utterly. She always gave him overly positive feedback on films that he himself wasn’t satisfied with.
“I miss her words, and I need to start getting used to work without her great encouragement.”
Experiencing the birth of his daughter and the death of his mother within the same year prompted Wu to reflect deeply on life.
“You can’t have what you have lost, no matter how rich, famous or smart you are. That’s why you start cherishing what you have now. I used to give top priority to my work. Now, it’s my family and friends.”
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 23.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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