Though generally unknown to Western audiences, Tsui Hark is considered a giant among Asian filmmakers and this exceptional epic, combining hard-hitting martial-arts action with romance, comedy, history, genuine poignance, and sharp insight into the effects of the century-long encroachment of Western civilization in Asia more than amply demonstrates why. The story centers on the exploits of Master Wong Fei-hung (a familiar figure in Hong Kong cinema) a 19th-century doctor, Confucian, and exceptional martial artist.
As the film begins, he has just opened a new clinic in Canton Province. To help him with patients, he hires a few apprentices including Porky Lang (the comic relief) and Buck Teeth Sol, who was raised outside China and barely can speak the language. Wong is platonically involved with the lovely, worldly Aunt Yee, who has been abroad most of her life.
Wong soon gets in trouble when he begins using his skills to protect and assist the poor and helpless in his community. As a result, someone torches his clinic, forcing Wong and his compadres to set off and get spectacularly staged revenge.
They also try vainly to stop Western culture from changing traditional Chinese ways, but they soon find that they may as well be shoveling sand against a rising tide.