In early 20th century Shanghai, Chen Zhen returns to Jingwu School to marry his fiancée. However, he learns that his master Huo Yuanjia has died, apparently from illness, which devastates Chen. During the funeral, people from a Japanese dojo in Hongkou District arrive to taunt the Jingwu students. Wu En, translator and advisor for the Japanese dojo's grandmaster Hiroshi Suzuki (the villain of the film), taunts Chen by slapping him on the cheek several times, and dares him to fight one of Suzuki's protégés. They present a sign to Jingwu School, bearing the words "Sick Man of East Asia", seemingly to insult Huo Yuanjia, describing the Chinese as "weaklings" in comparison to the Japanese. The protégé taunts the Jingwu students to fight him and promises, "I'll eat those words if any Chinese here dare to fight and defeat me". Chen Zhen wants to retaliate, but is prevented from doing so by Fan Junxia, the most senior student in the school.