Set in the People's Republic of China during the 1990s, the film centers on a 13-year-old substitute teacher, Wei Minzhi, in the Chinese countryside. Called in to substitute for a village teacher for one month, Wei is told not to lose any students. When one of the boys takes off in search of work in the big city, she goes looking for him. The film addresses education reform in China, the economic read moregap between urban and rural populations, and the prevalence of bureaucracy and authority figures in everyday life. It is filmed in a neorealist/documentary style with a troupe of non-professional actors who play characters with the same names and occupations as the actors have in real life, blurring the boundaries between drama and reality.