In this gangster story set in the 1930s, 14-year-old Tang Shuisheng arrives in Shanghai from the countryside to work for the triad boss.
The boy's uncle shows him the ropes of looking after Xiao Jinbao, the boss's mistress who sings at his club. With wide-eyed wonder, Shuisheng observes the opulence of his employer, the narcissism and petulance of the mistress, and the treachery of Song, the boss's protege.
When the gang flees to an island to avoid the revenge of a rival, Shuisheng experiences even more shocks as he watches the lives of innocent people dashed by the boss and his cronies.
Zhang Yimou has made another visually stunning film and drawn out a fine performance from Gong Li as the country girl turned gangster's moll. And to his credit, the director keeps most of the violence off screen without losing one iota of the dramatic tension. American movie directors of gangster sagas would do well to follow in Yimou's steps.