SOMETIMES you can't tell who's Wu or what's what in "The Go Masters," an epic film coproduced by Japan and China. It is, of course, both inscrutable and enlightening.

Go, a board game invented in China more than 3,000 years ago, spread to Japan in the eighth century, when circles of men practiced strategies and entered contests. Go masters were, and are, admired in the East much as good running backs are in the United States, and with attendant publicity.

Fame and envy, forgiveness and the futility of revenge are the themes of this long, frequently moving but often confusing tale of the relationship between two famous masters -- China's Kuang Yi-shan and Japan's Rinsaku Matsunami. Their broken but ultimately healed friendship serves as a metaphor for Sino-Japanese relations between 1924 and today.

The story begins when Kuang allows his only son A-ming to join Matsunami in Japan where the boy meets and marries his tutor's daughter and later becomes go champion of Japan. The military police order A-ming to renounce his Chinese citizenship or his title -- an ultimately tragic demand.

Directors Junya Sato of Tokyo and Duan Jishun of Peking co-directed the film, which indicts the Japanese for the massacre at Nanking and the invasion of Manchuria and chides the Chinese bureaucracy for corruption, the latter rather gently. It's to be heralded more for its spirit of cooperation than for its even- handedness.

Sun Dao-lin gives a complicated, moving performance, as does his Japanese counterpart, powerful Rentaro Mikuni. Unfortunately, cultural subtleties don't translate well, and that makes certain parts of the film virtually incomprehensible. Intermittent film clips with places and dates help, but flashbacks further muddle matters. Whole characters, incg Wu and Wu's father, seem to disappear, if indeed they ever were there.

The relationships between men and women are platonic by Western standards, though love, respect and devotion make up for it to some degree. Overall, the film is as lovely as it is clumsy. Nevertheless it's a big step forward for the camera- shy Chinese. East meets east, but can West go for it?

THE GO MASTERS -- At the West End Circle, in Chinese and Japanese with subtitles.