If it's hard occasionally to divine the precise meanings of Chen Kaige's lush, mystical fable, its poetic beauty and overall clarity of purpose are impossible to deny. An old, blind master musician wanders from desert village to desert village, accompanied by his headstrong, likewise afflicted pupil and amanuensis. As a child, the master was promised by his own mentor that when he had finally broken the thousandth string on his sanxian, he might open up the instrument and find a prescription to restore his sight. But his teenage apprentice, sceptical of his master's ascetic beliefs, is resolved to lead his own life, and takes up with a village girl against the wishes of both the old man and her family. Chronicling the widening of the gulf between man and boy, Chen explores the conflicts between age and youth, spirituality and physicality, discipline and disobedience, and - most movingly - the persistence and absence of faith and hope. Rarely have landscapes been photographed so sumptuously; rarely, too, has music in a film been used to such spine-tingling effect.