Two prostitutes, trained all their lives to give men pleasure, are abruptly forced to adjust to new lifestyles after the 1949 Communist takeover. Qiuyi and Xiao'e are friends with very different personalities; Qiuyi is imperious, proud and idealistic, while Xiao'e who was born in the bordello known as the Red Happiness Inn, is nervous, dependent and, at times, hysterical. When the Communists close the brothels, the women are taken away for medical inspections and rehabilitation, but Qiuyi manages to escape and goes to live with her favourite customer, the wealthy, youthful Lao Pu, who lives with his mother. When she discovers that she's pregnant, she's too proud to tell him, ending up in a Buddhist nunnery and refusing Lao's pleas for her to return. But when the Buddhists discover her pregnancy, they expel her and she suffers a painful miscarriage.
Xiao'e, meanwhile, goes through rehab and becomes a worker in a silk factory. She meets Lao and they have an affair; she too gets pregnant, and Lao, who by this time has lost all his property and money and is a worker also, marries her. Qiuyi turns up on the day of the wedding carrying a yellow umbrella, a symbol of separation. As time goes by, the marriage between Lao and Xiao'e degenerates into a series of ugly arguments, and Lao, who desperately missed Qiuyi, takes extreme action to solve his problem.
Silver Bear (Best Artistic Contribution) Berlin,