The story of renowned nineteenth-century painter Jang Seung-up (Choi Min-Sik), an artist whose revolutionary work—and persona—forever changed the face of Korean art.
In the 1850s, Kim Byung-moon (Ahn Sung-ki) saves the young Jang Seung-up from being beaten by a group of drifters. In return, Jang draws him a picture, and as Kim carefully examines the child's rough drawing, he notices the extraordinary potential of the young boy. Years later, Byung-moon becomes Jang’s mentor and encourages him to pursue the life of an artist. He eventually gives Jang the pen name of Oh-won.
Later on his life, Jang meets Mae-hyang, a daughter of a social elite who attracts him deeply. Although their passion is strong, they are eventually forced to separate when she runs away from Catholic persecution.
Jang eventually leaves his house and wanders about in pursuit of "true art," soon realizing that it is through pleasure that he can produce his greatest works. Oh-won's life is thus marked by the paradox of his inspiration derived by addiction to alcohol and convoluted love affairs with women.
As Jang continues to search for artistic transcendence, he stretches the limits of traditional Korean art, rapidly becoming a worldwide artistic reference—and one of Korea's national legends.