This story is a movie about friendship in the midst of tremendous political and cultural upheaval in China. It takes place before the communist revolution and continues to well after the communist takeover of China. Douzi is a abandoned by his mother because she is unable to care for him any longer. Douzi's mother makes her living as a prostitute and can no longer keep him in the brothel because he is getting too old to be housed in a brothel.
Douzi's mother wants him to join a theater troupe but he has an extra finger. The aging director, Master Guan says that Douzi can't join because his extra finger will scare customers away. Douzi's mother takes action to remove the extra finger and brings her son back, after which he is accepted into the troupe.
Douzi looks more feminine than the rest of the boys and is trained to perform all the female roles. His best friend and protector is Shitou, who earns his name because he is able to break big stones with the force of his head. Shitou is trained to take over all the leading man roles in the classical operas they produce.