The tireless and ultimately tragic efforts of an impoverished Chinese villager to care for his family are detailed in director Shen Wensheng's tale of one man's broken dreams, and his noble effort to hold out hope when all seemed lost. His carefree youth little more than a forgotten dream, Ah Ming must now assume the responsibilities of an adult and supply his family with the life-giving water of a nearby stream. Though his heart belongs to Ah Shui, Ah Ming is dejected to learn that he will be forced to forsake his true love to enter into an arranged marriage with a young girl from a neighboring village. When Ah Ming's new wife becomes overwhelmed by the harsh daily routine suffered by the people of the village, her hasty abandonment forces the ever-faithful Ah Shui to step in and care for Ah Ming and his ailing mother. Though an announcement by the government stating that they plan to renew work on the dams and canals that promise to put an end to Ah Ming's grueling routine by delivering water directly to the remote village, a sudden tragedy quickly eclipses the good news, promising even greater hardships for Ah Ming and Ah Shui's bleak future together.