Fugui's (Ge You) gambling leads him to lose everything, including his wife, Jiazhen (Gong Li), and his home. Over the following decades, he struggles to live as a peasant. He tries joining a theater troupe, and then he enlists in the Chinese army in hopes of being a good citizen. Yet, just as things get better -- and Jiazhen and their baby daughter return to him -- the Cultural Revolution begins and tragedy continues to strike his family. Despite numerous hardships, Fugui never gives up hope.