The young adult life of Hong Yunsheng, nicknamed Little Brother, is seen as somewhat of a failure by those that know him. A Chinese national, he stowed away on a boat to the United States, where he worked as a dishwasher in the restaurant of a family from his hometown back in Fujian province. After two years in the States and after fathering an illegitimate child there named Fusheng, the child's mother Xuhui who is the restaurateur's daughter, he was deported back to China. Since, he has been floundering in life, which has caused a rift between himself and his older brother, who, with his wife, operate a street front diner and can't have children of their own. Little Brother relies on his new girlfriend, a woman he barely knows named Wu Ruifang who is a performer in a touring opera troupe, for emotional support. Despite Little Brother being the local poster boy for not stowing away, his friend named Monkey tried to do the same, but died on the voyage over due to exposure to toxic chemicals on board the ship. Meanwhile, the restaurateur's family, including now five year old Fusheng, has returned to their Chinese hometown for a visit. They refuse to let Little Brother see his son, Little Brother who wants to be a father to the boy. This visit begins the tug-of-war not only between Little Brother and Xuhui's respective families, but between paternalistic Chinese society and American law.
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