Coping with her husband as best she can, Shi attempts to find an anchor by connecting to "Auntie" Ah-wang next door and joining in the religious and social life of the community, but her own ignorance and lack of confidence, the scourge of gossip, and the taint of her family history conspire against her. Eventually she is driven to madness and murder.
Inspired by a real case from the 1930s, The Butcher's Wife depicts the fate of a young woman trapped by both her individual circumstances and the confines of traditional Chinese society. It transcends any narrow categorisation, however, never lapsing into preaching and extending its reach with a number of fine character portraits and a vivid evocation of life in a small coastal town. The material is unsettling, but the presentation achieves a good balance of affect and the development is well paced.