An economically depressed steel-making city in northeast China, the present day. Chen Guilin is an accordionist who runs a small band with other unemployed friends and has an easygoing relationship with Shuxian, the singer in the group.
After going off with a wealthy manufacturer of fake medicine, Chen's wife Xiao Ju returns and asks him for a divorce - which he agrees to - plus custody of their young daughter Xiao Yuan - which he doesn't. Xiao Yuan is the apple of Chen's eye and he's been spending the little money he has on lessons for her to become a pianist.
Xiao Yuan says she'll stay with whomever provides her with a piano, so Chen first tries borrowing money from friends and relatives, and then stealing one from a local school - all without success.
He then decides there's only one solution: to make one, using pilfered parts from disused factories, wood from demolished buildings, and scrap metal left over from a closed foundry.
He assembles all his friends to help in the project, including the scholarly Wang who works out how to build a piano from a manual, local "businessman" Brother Ji who lets him use a decrepit factory and supervises the smelting of the iron frame, ex-con Lightning Fingers who pilfers small parts, and friend Wang Kangmei to help Shuxian with the cooking.