It begins with the Korean artist being suspicious of a Japanese art-lover who values his work. The story then goes back to his man’s early years. Beginning as a vagabond with a talent for drawing, he has a talent for imitating other people’s art, but is urged to go on and develop a style of his own. This process is painful and he often behaves very badly, getting drunk and being hostile to those who care about him and try to help him.
These events are set against the struggle for reform within Korea, caught between China and Japan (annexed by Japan in 1910, outside the film’s time-frame).