Due to her brother's “accident” in smoking arsenic instead of opium, Ruyi (played by the ever-luminous Gong Li) is granted leadership over the family fortune at a time when women’s equality didn’t exist. Ruyi’s cousin, Duanwu (Kevin Lin), is ordered to serve as her personal attaché, and, smitten by her charms, he faithfully executes her every command. However, Zhongliang -- a close relation now grown up and playing a con man to perfection in Shanghai -- returns home, at the behest of his boss, to bilk Ruyi out of the family fortune. As the balance of influence continually shifting between Zhongliang and Ruyi and Duanwu, it becomes increasingly difficult for each person to understand how love – or the appearance of it – drives not only their honesty but also their respective deceits. However, when Zhongliang discovers he has fallen deeply in love with Ruyi, he chooses to alter her fate ... but his choice only secures his own fate in the eyes of the triad he serves.