Beijing, 1902, at the Feng Tai Photo Shop. Master Ren prepares for a formal portrait of Lord Tan, China's most famous opera star, while chief photographer Liu, neglecting his duties for the moment, tinkers with a Victrola. Lord Tan arrives with a retinue, including his beautiful daughter, Ling, who exchanges glances with Liu. Meanwhile, a foreigner, Raymond Wallace, has set up the first crude movie theatre, Shadow Magic, with which he hopes to make a fortune and return to England. Liu's fascination with useless and disapproved foreign gadgetry leads him into a double life working for both Ren and Wallace.