Ermo works all hours to support her family - but when her neighbours get a colour TV, she determines to follow their example, whatever the cost, and sets about doing whatever is necessary to raise the money to buy it.
Chinese cinema has, recently, earned a reputation for producing sumptuous historical dramas laying bare the country's troubled past. Therefore Xiaowen's contemporary satire on mass consumerism, a sparkling peek at a nation tentatively negotiating the uncharted waters of a market economy, comes as a refreshing change.
The heroine of this ode to free enterprise is tough talking young mother Ermo (the sublime Alia). Working all hours to support her crippled elderly husband and young son, Ermo is a startling symbol of the new China - a peasant turned budding capitalist who, through her own energies, has the chance to make some serious dosh. She may be on the way up, but she is hampered by her irrational resentment of the easy life her fat, lazy neighbour (Zhang) enjoys with her rich, young husband, Blindman (Liu) that affords them the ultimate status symbol: a colour telly.
Ermo, consequently, sets about buying the biggest TV possible and heads for the city in search of new ways of making more money. She gets a job at a Western style restaurant, sells blood and, in the spirit of her newfound independence, has an affair with Blindman. The shockingly un-Chinese sex and shopping theme resembles a poor man's version of Dynasty, and only serves to underline Xiaowen's nightmare vision of China's future.
Xiaowen's panicky observations of the fast changing moral and commercial climate find real clarity in the brilliant character of Ermo - a selfish, entrepreneurial femme fatale for China's new age.