The film opens with Ah Peng (Mo Zijiang), an ethnic Bai, on his way to a festival in Dali City, Yunnan. Along the way he meets Jinhua (played by the sixteen-year-old Yang Likun) who needs help to fix her wagon. Ah Peng helps her and later goes on to win the horse race at the festival. Impressed with his skill and kindness Jinhua falls in love with him. Ah Peng and Jinhua agree to meet one year thence, but when Ah Peng returns he cannot find her. He and his companions search for Jinhua (which is a common Chinese name for both sexes), and come across four other women named Jinhua — a steelworker, a tractor driver, a herder and a fertilizer maker — before he eventually finds his love, who works as a commune director. After some initial confusion, the two get married and there is a final chorus under the Butterfly Spring.
Five Golden Flowers is a canonical example of films produced by state-run production companies in China during the 1950s and 60s depicting ethnic minorities in society. The Bai minority featured in Five Golden Flowers is shown to wear colourful costumes, engage in festive song and dance, and in romance, yet they are fully committed to socialist construction. The filmmakers took care to use folk songs from the region and hire a Yunnanese leading lady. The film is of particular interest because the portrayal of ethnic minorities allowed filmmakers to probe areas deemed too sensitive by the Chinese government.