A small town in northern China consists of closed and dilapidated factories and buildings, shacks, and two smoke stacks. The poor people who live here are mostly doing small jobs just to keep occupied. Chen (Wang Qian-Uuan) has his share of troubles, including his wife who is leaving him for a more upwardly mobile husband. She doesn't want to split their meager possessions but insists upon custody of their young daughter who has been declared a gifted pianist.

Chen plays accordion and leads a ragtag local band that performs at weddings, funerals, and small gigs. Singer She Xian (Qin Hai-lu) is his girlfriend but he is in no rush to move to the next level in their relationship. In order to keep his daughter, Chen tries several options to get her a real piano to replace the cardboard one he made for her to practice on. Then this anxious musician comes up with a feasible but very difficult solution: build a piano with the help of the band of misfits who are his friends. A ramshackle steel factory offers the perfect workshop for this ambitious project. Those involved can scavenge materials from the junk in the factory.

Chinese writer and director Zhang Meng has created a mildly humorous tale out of this community effort to help a friend in a custody battle. The little girl's piano playing is the only beauty in this revolting industrial slum where ugliness stares at you from every angle. Chen and his band buddies have realized that music is the only stay against a degrading and depressing environment.

The Piano in a Factory is a tribute to the creativity that is possible when people band together on projects to bring more beauty into the world.