An unseen videographer introduces grimy Shanghai, with its aged industry and filth. His narration leads into the tale of motorcycle courier Mardar (Jia Hongsheng), one of whose jobs is to ferry teenager Moudan (Zhou Xun) around town. Love grows between them, but Mardar goes ahead with a plan hatched by his criminal associates to ransom the girl. Despairing, Moudan throws herself into the river of the title, vowing to return as a mermaid. Which brings us back to the narrator, who has been dating a club performer, Meimei (Xun again), whose gig involves dressing up as... a mermaid.
The mystery of whether Meimei is Moudan is a homage to Hitchcock's Vertigo. But, with its handheld camera and lonely city types, the film also nods to Wong Kar-Wai.
Classily played and poetic, in its imagery of back-alley Shanghai and daring story-telling, Shuzhou River is fine testimony to the vigour of China's younger generation of film-makers.