After rescuing his bride-to-be (Wang Lan) from bandits in the northwest of China in the 1920s, the groom expires before the wedding. Despite that, the bride is reluctantly accepted as a worthy virgin and is ritually married to the dead boy's wooden effigy. However, her stern and heartless mother-in-law (Wang Yumei) is determined that her son's memory will be honored in the way she thinks best: for the son's fiancee never to know a moment's comfort or intimacy for the rest of her miserable life. The girl does what she can to adapt to the harsh dictates of the household, and briefly finds comfort in the arms of a household worker. Her mother-in-law catches them, and breaks the girl's ankles, crippling her to prevent her from moving about freely and dishonoring her son's memory in any way. The desperate young woman tries to escape, but finds no help anywhere, until the young worker she briefly had a liaison with, (Ching Shih, who had also been her loyal porter when she was captured by the bandits), leads a band bent on independence to her rescue.