It is the beginning of the 20th Century, and deep in the heart of the Dunhuang Caves ,the old Taoist watchman, Wang Yuanlu is doing his rounds of the Mo Gao Grottoes. Suddenly he stumbles upon an unknown cave full of Buddhists texts. He picks one up and as he slowly unrolls it, he discovers a painting that would take him on a compelling and touching journey back in time......
A long long time ago, a young painter by the name of Mo Gao lay dying of thirst in the scorching sands of the desert. He had lost his way in the pursuit of his art and his passion to find the famous Dunhuang Caves.
As he drew his last breath, a troop of soldiers arrive.
Their leader, a young brave General, takes pity on the young man and orders the soldiers to give him a water flask in the shape of a new moon. But on seeing the painting in Mo Gao's hand, the War Lord seizes it and rides off.
Weeks later in the middle of the Minsha Mountains, the residents of the Dunhuang Caves are celebrating the completion of the new Grotto.Mo Gao, now fully recovered, has joined them as an Artist and is working away on a new creation..
Suddenly the cave is full of the Soldiers he met before. To his great surprise the General who had saved him in the desert turns out to be a beautiful young woman, called Yue Ya.
Alone in the Caves Yue Ya seeks out Mo Gao and returns his Painting to him, and as the two discuss their passion for Art, they slowly fall in love.
Yue Ya's father, the Great General, arrives and incensed that his daughter is falling in love with a mere artist, he wrenches her away and takes her to his camp in the desert.
The Great General has decided that his daughter needs to find a husband as soon as possible. He summons all of the Great War Lords and Princes who travel the Silk Road to come and pay court to her.
However Yue Ya is unmoved by their declarations and decides to return to the arms of her beloved Mo Gao.
The General discovered that his daughter is missing and realizing that she has returned to her young artist, he summons his troops to march back to Dunhuang.
Yue Ya enters the grotto, where Magao is working on his masterpiece. She rushes into his arms.
Filled with joy and love Magao is inspired to greater heights, but a dark cloud descends upon the lovers. The General's Army has surrounded the Caves.
Mad with rage the General draws his sword and rushed at Mo Gao , but as he is about to strike him down, Yue Ya throws herself in front of her lover and takes the full force of the blow.
The General is mortified, and consumed with remorse; he leaves the two lovers alone.Mo Gao, now owes his life for a second time to his beautiful lover, and is overcome with grief.
But out of this grief comes a renewed passion to complete his masterpiece.
Years go by, the masterpiece is finished, and The Spring which appeared on the spot where his beloved was killed is crystal clear.
Mo Gao throws himself into the water and his spirit is carried into the celestial layer to be forever reunited with his true love and inspiration Yue Ya.