A delivery driver, Mardar, is sometimes hired by a rich man to deliver his daughter, Moudan, to her aunt's house. Over the course of a few years, a relationship develops between the two. Unfortunately, Mardar also has obligations to a criminal organization, and is hired to hold Moudan for ransom. After the bill is paid, Moudan flies into a rage and runs away while Mardar chases her, eventually cumulating in her jumping off a bridge, presumably to her death. Mardar is sent to jail for a few years. When he gets out, he begins searching for Moudan, whom he is convinced is not actually dead. Two more characters get involved in this tragic story: Meimei, a girl who looks exactly like Moudan, and Lao B, Meimei's boyfriend.
A smash critical success at the time of its release, many critics compared the twisting, fractured narrative and the gritty, urban decay feel of the city setting to films by Alfred Hitchcock and Wong Kar-Wai, particularly Vertigo and Chungking Express. It won multiple awards at many international film festivals, although Ye was banned from filmmaking by the Chinese government for two years after the film's release due to him screening it without proper permission. It is now authorized in China.
This film contains examples of:
- Anachronic Order: Lao B narrates the whole film, meaning the story begins at the end after all the events have happened.
- Bookends: The film begins and ends with Lao B lying on a boat as it travels down Suzhou River.
- The Faceless: All of Lao B's scenes are filmed from his point of view, as if we are looking through his eyes. Therefore the audience never sees his face.
- Girlish Pigtails: Moudan sports a pair to show off her childlike nature.
- Here We Go Again!: After Mardar and Moudan's double suicide, Meimei is inspired to disappear as well, leaving Lao B a note that says "Find me if you love me".
- Identical Stranger: Moudan and Meimei look so much alike that Mardar is at first convinced the latter is the former. She's not, but in real life, both characters were played by the same actress.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Meimei comes across as quite standoffish and rude during her first few appearances in the film, but gradually shows that she cares about Maradar's problems and wants as romantic a relationship with Lao B as he does with Moudan. Subverted when she goes insane over Mardar's story and disappears without a trace in some crazy scheme to see if Lao B can prove his love by finding her.
- The Mourning After: The entire second half of the film concerns Mardar's inability to accept the fact that Moudan is dead and his insistence that she is still alive. By the end, we discover that she is.
- Mythical Motifs: Mermaids for Moudan, seeing as she has a doll of one and tells Mardar right before she jumps off the bridge that she'll come back as one. Meanwhile, Meimei swims in a tank as one for tips in a seedy bar.
- Never Found the Body: After Moudan jumps off the bridge, the police are unable to locate her body and assume her dead, arresting Mardar for accidental manslaughter. It turns out Moudan did survive the fall off the bridge and simply went into hiding. Mardar finds her near the end of the film.
- Suicide Pact: After Mardar and Moudan find each other again, they drink a full bottle of vodka together before driving his motorcycle off a tall bridge to their deaths.