Pavilion of Women, based on a novel by Pearl S. Buck, is set in China in 1938. The Chinese aristocracy is under threat from both Communist rebels inside China, and the powerful Japanese Army on the borders. Madame Wu (Yan Luo) is the 40-year-old wife of domineering Chinese aristocrat Lord Wu (Shek Sau). Now that she has raised her son Fengmo (John Cho) to adulthood, Madame Wu wishes to free herself from family responsibility, and her husband's sexual demands. Against tradition, she introduces a beautiful young peasant, Chiuming (Yi Ding), to the household as a concubine, in the hope that Chiuming will sate Lord Wu's appetite. Complications arise when Fengmo falls in love with Chiuming, while Madame Wu is drawn towards the mysterious American priest, Father Andre (Willem Dafoe), who has been tutoring Fengmo. Madame Wu's unconventional actions as she seeks love and happiness threaten to destroy her household, just as war and revolution bring chaos to her country.