The Silk and the Flame chronicles Yao’s journey home from Beijing to his familial home in the provinces for the Chinese New Year. Nearing forty and still single, he returns to visit his deaf-mute mother and invalid father, whose dying wish is to see his son wedded to the right woman and starting a family of his own. Yao, a closeted homosexual, would prefer to find the right man. He has done well in the capital and supports his parents, his elder brother and his brother's children. His professional achievements have earned the family's respect further fueling their dismay that he is still a bachelor. Ever the dutiful son, he finds himself sacrificing his own needs in order to fulfill their expectations.
The film is an intimate look into everyday life in China, where the economic boom of the cities stands in stark contrast to the poverty experienced by those living in the countryside. Schiele uses stark black-and-white photography to provide a fascinating and subtle narrative that reveals how deeply entrenched the Confucian values that shape Chinese society are, the legacy of the social tumult of the twentieth century, and the family’s own battle with the simple means of communication that most of us take for granted. The film offers an intimate portrait of familial bonds, of traditional values and the pressure to conform.