Tiger Chen is the sole student of Ling Kong Tai Chi style under his elderly master Yang. While Tiger excels in the physical aspects of his training, he has yet to understand its philosophical aspects, which worries Master Yang. Determined to prove the effectiveness of the style, Tiger competes in the local Wulin (武林) Competition.
HKPD officer Sun-Jing Shi leads an investigation into Security System Alliance (SSA), a private security firm owned by the mysterious Donaka Mark. Suspecting Donaka of hosting an illegal fighting operation, Sun-Jing turns one of Donaka’s fighters into a mole, but Donaka discovers and personally kills him. Without any evidence, Superintendent Wong orders the case closed, but Sun-Jing secretly continues investigating.
While searching for his next fighter, Donaka sees Tiger at the Wulin Competition. Intrigued by the relative obscurity of the style, as well as Tiger’s immaturity, he sends Tiger a job offer at SSA. Tired of his menial courier job, Tiger flies to Hong Kong for the job interview. The “interview” turns out to be a test of Tiger’s combat ability, which he passes. Donaka welcomes Tiger offers him great financial rewards for joining his underground fighting ring. Tiger refuses as fighting for money would compromise his honor, and leaves.
Soon after, land inspectors arrive and declare the Tai Chi temple structurally unsafe. They announce the plan to evict its occupants, including Master Yang, and demolish the temple for real estate development. Tiger seeks help from Qing Sha, a paralegal friend. With her help, he finds a means to save the temple through historic preservation and government protection. However, because of the temple’s deteriorated condition, it requires repairs within a month’s time. Desperate for money, Tiger accepts Donaka’s offer.
After each fight, which is a form of modern gladiatorial combat enjoyed by rich individuals, Tiger wins larger sums of money. He quits his job, buys his parents presents, and begins having the temple repaired. However, the challenges became more difficult, with the stakes raised against him, forcing Tiger to develop a style that is more efficient but also more brutal. Noticing the change in him, Master Yang warns Tiger; however, intoxicated with the new life, Tiger ignores the warning.
In the Wulin Competition, Tiger viciously injures his opponent, and is disqualified. When Tiger comes back to train with his master, the usual respectful spar devolves into an intense fight. Master Yang is forced to use his internal chi energies to palm-strike Tiger, reminding him that he has not yet completely mastered Tai Chi. He advises Tiger to return to the path of peace, but Tiger rejects his teachings and leaves. Tiger finds out that the authority has rejected his petition to gain historical protection for the temple. A disappointed Qing-Sha tells Tiger that the decision is in part due to his actions at the Wulin Competition, which are in contrast to the claimed honor and nobility of his temple’s philosophy.