- Shanghai, 1931. Lady Sylvia Allington is the beautiful, young American born wife of an aged British diplomat.
- She and her husband travel to Shanghai to persuade a notorious Chinese warlord, General Gong Fei, to donate a priceless antique jade bust to the British Museum.
- Lady Sylvia, a former carnival cooch dancer from Chicago, falls headlong into a fatal love affair with the mysterious Gong Fei, getting hooked on opium and antagonizing the General’s chief adviser, the elderly Doctor Wu and his enigmatic mistress, Mah Li.
- A scandal involving a local bordello madame, Mrs. Carroll and a cockney drug runner named Pug Talbot, leads to tragedy. Gong Fei blames Sylvia for his troubles and in a mad fit, brands her on the buttocks.
- She shoots him and finds herself on trial for his murder. She is acquitted but still imprisoned in her loveless marriage, knowingly sniffs a poisoned chrysanthemum and dies.
- Shanghai Moon is an homage to movie and stage melodramas such as The Bitter Tea of General Yen, The Letter, The Green Hat, The Cheat, and Shanghai Express.
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