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This tale spans 50 years--from 1925 to 1977--a story at once that of individuals and of the history of China. Two young orphan boys are in the Peking Opera's perfectionist training academy. Eventually, Dieyi is assigned the role of the concubine in the famous traditional opera of the film's title, while Xiaolou will play the king. They are locked into these roles onstage, while their personal relationship somehow survives the upheavals of World War...
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