Little Mute is a new Shaolin student who is mute. He struggles to keep up with the other students and to complete the grueling tasks assigned to him by his instructor. He is haunted by the memory of his father's murder at the hands of a masked bandit who was skilled in martial arts.
One night, a drunken monk leads Little Mute to a secret cave behind a waterfall. A man is imprisoned there. Over time, Little Mute befriends the violent prisoner by bringing him food and wine that he steals from the monastery. He learns that the prisoner is a deadly martial artist who is developing a technique called the Lion’s Roar, which he will use to escape his captivity. Little Mute convinces the prisoner to train him. The prisoner's style aims to kill the opponent as fast as possible. A Shaolin nun sees Little Mute practicing these killing techniques. She tells him that martial arts are not for killing; rather, they are for self-development, with self-defense employed only when necessary and with minimal violence. She trains him in the Gliding Snake style, the ideals of which clash with those of the prisoner's killing style. Nevertheless, Little Mute continues to study both styles. Finally the prisoner judges that Little Mute is ready to attempt to pass the test of the Shaolin Wooden Men Alley, a narrow hallway containing thirty-six Shaolin Wooden Men, which are mechanical wooden dummies that attack anyone who enters the hallway. Little Mute successfully fights his way through the Wooden Men Alley.