It's the story of a club owner Valentine Wilmot (James Thomas) who's dating star dancer, Mabel Greenfield (Gilda Gray). One night, after a host of complaints regarding the dirty dishes, Valentine checks out the kitchen. There Shosho (Anna May Wong) is dancing for all the workers. Of course, Valentine is impressed - so impressed he asks her to come up to his office later to dance again. (do they just dance or more?)
Valentine becomes obsessed with Shosho and wants her to dance in the show (much to Mabel's chargin). Of course, Shosho has a great night and wins the audience to her. Mabel grows more jealous of her rival. Meanwhile, Shosho has a friend/boyfriend, Jim (King Hou Chang), whom she helps get a gig at her show. He's besotted with her, but of course, she has eyes only for Valentine and his bankbook.
One night, she finally gives Valentine a key to her flat and asks him to come inside. It's implied that they finally slept together, though the censors at the time wouldn't let Anna kiss a white man. I think he barely touches her hand in the film, but you can figure out what happens. Jim met Valentine later and was not too thrilled, of course. Also, Mabel followed Val to the flat to spy on him. As soon as he was gone, Jim let her in to beg Shosho to leave her man alone. Of course, Shosho said no and Mabel shows she had a gun. Shosho goes for a knife and Mabel passes out (!). Later, we learn Shosho was killed, but was it Mabel or someone else?
Now we get a showy trial that would make Dick Wolf of "Law and Order" fame proud to see. All the evidence points to Val being the killer - his gun, his girl, etc. Then Jim steps up to really nail the coffin lid shut. It's his revenge for Val stealing Shosho away from him! Too bad Mabel steps in to dramatically tell the court how she visited Shosho and it was she who brought the gun, etc. But she fainted, so she didn't kill Shosho...then who did?
Mabel basically shreds Jim's story of the night. The judge wants to see him, but he's somehow gotten into the morgue and shot himself! (first of all, don't they have anyone watching these places? where are all the police?) He lives long enough to tell his story, how he found the gun after Mabel left and how Shosho basically gave him the brush off. He then tried to strangle her and then shot her. In his guilt and love, he tried to kill himself next to her body. Val and Mabel are cleared and Jim dies guilty of his crime.
Outside, we get a gilmpse that the world as already moved on from this flashy murder trial. It reminded me a bit of "Chicago", but I liked that.
Overall, it was a good film, with great silent movie moments - like the Mabel/Shosho confrontaion scene. I wish some films today could be so dramatic with editing, etc. As for Miss Gray - she gives silent actors a bad name! Could she overact anymore?! Meanwhile, I didn't understand why the women were all lusting over Thomas - I thought he was very dull and boring, but many of the leading men were like that in the '20's - the he-men of the 30's and '40's (Gable, Mitchum, Cagney, Tracy, Grant even) were still to come. I have the same issues with "It" and it's leading man.
Anyway, props to Anna May Wong for stealing the film. I wish she had been able to work in more films.