Time: Tenth century
Place: Việt Nam
Overture and Prologue – 3 minutes
Act I – 63 minutes
Scene 1: The wedding – 20 minutes
In the joyous feeling of spring, the Mãng and Sùng families celebrate the marriage and bright future of their children, Thiện Sĩ and Thị Kính. He is prosperous and studious. She is kind, lovely, beautiful, and supportive. Together, the young couple embraces the dream life of enduring happiness.
Scene 2: The fateful night – 12 minutes
Thiện Sĩ and Thị Kính live an ideal happy life. On a chilly autumn night, Thiện Sĩ gets tired while studying late. He leans on his wife’s lap to catch a short nap. Thị Kính recognizes a single long hair on his cheek. She decides to cut it off with her knitting knife, because it is an unbecoming characteristic for a righteous man. Thiện Sĩ suddenly wakes up and thinks Thị Kính is trying to kill him. He screams for help, and his parents quickly take his side. The Sùng family is shocked and disgusted and insists on returning Thị Kính to her family.
Scene 3: Seeking monkhood – 10 minutes
Failed by love, by her own parent, and by the rules of society, Thị Kính turns to the eternal love of Buddha. She disguises herself as a man and enters a monastery, taking her saint name Tiểu Kính Tâm. She takes a vow to devote her life to a higher cause.
Scene 4: Spring festival at the temple – 14 minutes
Spring festival is a joyous event, with new fortunes and possibilities for its attendants. The young, beautiful and lustful Thị Mầu pours her heart out for the possibility of a young love for herself. She falls in love with the young monk Tiểu Kính Tâm and pursues him, an impossible goal. Failing to get her wish, she vows to pursue any possible prospect.
Scene 5: Thi Mau’s affair with her servant No – 7 minutes
Returning home, Thị Mầu realizes that her family’s attractive servant Nô is not a bad prospect after all. On his part, Nô takes the chance of a lifetime, returning his mistress’ interest, pursuing the unthinkable.
Act II – 51 minutes
Scene 6: Declamation – 8 minutes
Back at the temple, Tiểu Kính Tâm reexamines the purpose of “his” life. “He” feels guilty for leaving his old and weak father behind. At the same time, he foresees a turbulent time is waiting.
Scene 7: Lý Trưởng and Vợ Mõ – 7 minutes
Lý Trưởng, the chief of the village, discovers the unlawful affair of Thị Mầu as her pregnancy becomes obviously visible. He comes to the town crier to command him to announce his order. Instead, the chief meets the town crier’s wife, Vợ Mõ. He then asks her to make the announcement. They exchange several jokes – word playing games. The chief admits her cleverness; however, she finally submits to his order to gather a village meeting.
Scene 8: The Trial – 12 minutes
Thị Mầu is summoned to the trial. She lies of her affair, and wrongfully blames the young monk Tiểu Kính Tâm. Tiểu Kính Tâm has no idea why he is on trial. He tries hard to defend himself, and convince people of his sincere intention of entering monkhood. All the while, Thị Mầu insists that her pregnancy is the result of a love affair with the young monk. The village’s chief orders a punishment of one hundred lashes, hoping that the young monk cannot endure pain, and thus will confess his sin. Tiểu Kính Tâm follows his own motto of living life for a higher cause. Thus he accepts the accusation and punishment in order to grant Thị Mầu a new life.
Scene 9: The market place – 10 minutes
Returning to the temple, Tiểu Kính Tâm desperately begs the senior monk Sư Cụ for his benevolence and kindness to let him remain under the protective roof of the enlightened temple. Sư Cụ helplessly denies such a request in the name of the holy temple. A sin you committed is the fate you live, he replies. In spite of his Buddhist belief that Tiểu Kính Tâm deserves a second chance, Sư Cụ acknowledges his failure to provide the young monk protection against social rules. Tiểu Kính Tâm has no other choice but to leave the temple. Meanwhile, Thị Mầu approaches the temple and abandons her newborn son under a tree. Tiểu Kính Tâm hears its cries, finds the baby and decides to raise the child as his own. He carries the child to marketplaces to beg for food and money to raise the little boy.
Scene 10: The ascension – 14 minutes
Tiểu Kính Tâm hopes to seek sympathy from strangers in the marketplace for the sake of the baby. Instead, he and his child were spit on for the sin they are alleged to have committed. Three years later, on a cold autumn day, Tiểu Kính Tâm finally gives in, thinking that the child is ready to survive on his own. Before he leaves the earthly world to enter the enlightened realm of everlasting nirvana, he writes a letter to explain everything, in the hope that someone will take care of the child. Touched by Thị Kính’s selflessness, Buddha declares her Phật Quan Âm Thị Kính (the female Buddha).