The script of the movie is intentionally divided into several distinct parts which cover different periods of time. There are 4 decades represented in the movie. The 40-s are characterized by the civil war and revolution in China. They are changed by the 50-s and building communist industrial China. Cultural Revolution enters the country in 1960-s. The end of the movie covers a period after all these events. All these historical events are showed with the help of fiction story integrated in the narrative. It is a story of Fugui, a former landowner and a person who has to live.
The story begins in 1940-s, which Chinese civil war unexpectedly changes lives of all people in the state. Fugui has already lost everything; his addiction to bargaining ruined his family and left his without a tile above his head. He manages to cope with poverty and his hard work brings his wife Jiazhen back to him. He is again inspired to live; he wants to ask for credit from the landowner who won his family mansion, but he gets a set of shadow puppets instead. The war enters his life accidentally; during one of the performances of his shadow puppet theater, the knife stubs the curtain and all actors are taken to the nationalist army.
Fugui is adaptable to any change in his life; he happens to entertain people in the army by his performances. Eventually he misses the major attack and finds out that nationalists have been killed; only he and his puppet theater partner Chunsheng survive. They try to run away, but the Red Army catches them. They entertain people here again and get back homes alive. On the battlefield, Fugui says the most important words: “I want to live. There is nothing like family”.
Having survived the war, Fugui’s family has a new challenge – to survive the building of Communism. They become very poor; his wife delivers boiled water to people to earn for living. Their daughter