Chan plays Little Mute, a young man training in a Shaolin monastery, who as a child was reduced to becoming a mute after witnessing his father's brutal death. Training to make himself stronger for revenge, Little Mute can only become the most powerful fighter in the martial arts academy by passing the "The Shaolin Pathway of Wooden Men", a dark corridor containing thirty-six wooden mechanical wooden dummies that activates the moment anyone trespasses and will destroy anybody attempting to cross to the end.
Its your rather standard martial arts revenge movie, but the wooden dummies as an obstacle is a fresh, unique concept, one which is popular enough to, decades later, inspire Mokujin from the Tekken franchise.
This film provides examples of:
- All Monks Know Kung-Fu: True enough to this genre
- Cave Behind the Falls: Theres one hidden in the falls behind the Shaolin Temple, which serves as a secret prison containing the Green Dragon leader.
- Co-Dragons: Two Mook Lieutenant bodyguards, armed with a staff and a sword, serves the Green Dragon Leader directly, and are the Dual Boss Little Mute have to defeat in his attempt to reach the leader.
- Cute Mute: Little Mute, the martial arts student portrayed by Jackie Chan in his early 20s.
- Deliberately Monochrome: The Troubled Backstory Flashback of Little Mute depicting his fathers murder is framed through a deep orange filter to depict it being set in the past. The later scene on the Green Dragon Leaders past is similarly depicted through the same filter scheme, to help audience recognize it as a flashback.
- Finger Poke of Doom: The Green Dragon Leader have this ability, capable of stabbing people to death with his fingers. Too bad for him this ends up biting him in the ass in the final battle.
- Gotta Kill Them All: The Green Dragon Leader, upon escaping from his waterfall prison, immediately goes on a killing spree hunting down everyone responsible for his imprisonment in the first place.
- Hoist by His Own Petard
- Against the Co-Dragons, Little Mute manage to defeat them by snapping the staff fighters neck with his own staff and stabbing the sword fighter with his own sword.
- See also the next trope.
- Impromptu Tracheotomy: A rare, self-inflicted example, when the Green Dragon Leader tries to use his Claw Fist move to attack Little Mute, he ends up accidentally shoving his fingers through his own throat.
- Martial Pacifist: The Shaolin nun, who noticed Little Mutes thirst for revenge and advises him that martial arts are not for killing, but for self-development, and self-defense with minimal violence.
- Memento MacGuffin: The doll given to Little Mute by his father, which shows up in the flashback and multiple times during his training scenes. It gets shattered by the Green Dragon Leader in the final battle, causing Little Mute to go on a rage and summon a Heroic Second Wind which defeats his opponent eventually.
- Obfuscating Disability: Little Mute isnt a mute at all. Hes pretending to be a mute for most of his life in order to trick the Green Dragon gang into thinking hes no longer a threat.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Little Mute. And his fathers killer, the Green Dragon Leader.
- A Pupil of Mine Until He Turned to Evil: The Green Dragon Leader turns out to be a Shaolin practitioner who went renegade and going on a killing spree, before he was subsequently captured and imprisoned behind a waterfall.
- Revenge: This trope is what Little Mute trained his entire life to prepare himself for, and to eventually destroy his fathers killer.
- Simple Staff: Shaolin Monks prefers using this as their weapon.
- Step into the Blinding Fight: In addition to being tough as hell, crossing the corridor of wooden men is made even more difficult by the fact that the alleyway is located in the heart of the monastery, without any windows, and challengers must brave the wooden dummies' assault while in total darkness.
- Training Dummy: The Shaolin Pathway of Wooden Men. Or Mu Ren Xiang, which Little Mute had to cross in order to complete his training.
- Training from Hell: Little Mute puts himself through this the entire movie in order to make himself tougher, and eventually strong enough to avenge his father.
- Ultimate Final Exam: Crossing The Shaolin Pathway of Wooden Men. The Monastery elders have noted that in the centuries since their establishment, NONE have successfully crossed this trial. Little Mute inevitably is the first.
- Would Harm a Senior: The Green Dragon Leader have no qualms beating an old couple to death.
- You Killed My Father: The Green Dragon Leader is eventually revealed to be the killer of Little Mutes father, and his final battle before completing his revenge.