Although the film is somewhat slow, and the three segments are not joined as much as they could be, the film is saved by the excellent cast and their acting skills. Particularly Zhao Tao as the lead.
She plays Tao, who, in the first segment of the film set in Fenyang, Northern China, 1999, is a lively young woman who is courted by the quiet, almost silent, but strong coal miner, Liangzi (Liang Jim Dong) and by the budding entrepreneur Zhang Jinsheng (Zhang Yi). Although Tao is happy having the friendship of both young men, the young men are not content and constantly argue. But Tao decides to marry Zhang and they have a son, Dollar.
There are three separate time lines: we are next in 2014 which finds Tao divorced and still living in Fenyang while Dollar lives in Shanghai with his father and his new wife. When Dollar visits his mother in Fenyang, he is no longer close to her and doesn’t fit in with her lifestyle.
Finally, the time moves to 2025 and the story focusses on Dollar, the son of Tao and Zhang. He no longer visits his mother, speaks little Chinese, and has become absorbed into the culture of Australia where he now lives with his father. Zhang, however does not get on well with his son, who is not sure what to do with his life. He is close to a much older woman teacher. Tao longs for her son as she spends her days alone.
The director gives us a good idea of life in China and the vast difference between the new culture of young people and the old ways of China. Beautifully acted by his wife, the actress Zhao Tao, who shines as Tao, particularly in the first segment of the movie, Jia Zhangke has given us a fascinating story with the background of an ever-changing China.