The film is set in China in the late 19th century during the Qing dynasty, when Chinese sovereignty is being eroded by foreign imperialism. Empress Dowager Cixi and Li Hongzhang decide to stage a lion dance competition to showcase Chinese martial arts and restore national pride. Interested parties from all over China are invited to participate and compete for the title "Lion Dance King".
Wong Fei-hung travels from Foshan to Beijing with his romantic interest 13th Aunt and apprentice Leung Foon to meet his father, Wong Kei-ying, at the Cantonese Association. At the train station, 13th Aunt meets Tomanovsky, a Russian diplomat, who was her classmate when she was studying in Britain. He starts vying for her attention and annoys Wong, who is disgusted by the Western custom of kissing a woman's hand. When Wong reaches the Cantonese Association, he learns that his father has been attacked by a wealthy rival martial artist, Chiu Tin-bak, and Chiu's henchman, Clubfoot, but sustained only minor injuries. Wong Kei-ying decides to give his blessings to his son and 13th Aunt when he sees they are becoming closer to each other.
Before the competition officially begins, all the lion dance troupes that have gathered in Beijing are already fighting among themselves and holding another competition of their own. Wong does not participate and spectates instead. Unknown to him, Leung and his friend have secretly joined the competition out of mischief. A short chase takes place between Clubfoot and Leung when the latter annoys the former during the contest and flees. Clubfoot's legs are crushed when Leung accidentally releases a stampede of horses from a stable. Chiu abandons Clubfoot when he sees that he is now a useless cripple. Wong takes pity on Clubfoot, brings him in, and heals his legs. Clubfoot is initially hostile towards Wong, but he feels so touched and grateful to Wong that he becomes Wong's new apprentice.
With the aid of a camera given to her by Tomanovsky, 13th Aunt inadvertently uncovers a plot to assassinate Li Hongzhang during the competition and learns that Tomanovsky is one of the conspirators. She warns Wong, who joins the contest to stop the assassins. In the final round of the competition, Wong, Leung and Clubfoot fight with dozens of rival lion dancers as they battle their way to the top of a scaffold. Chiu also joins the competition and carries a large and deadly lion mask. Wong ultimately defeats Chiu and wins the competition.
In the meantime, Tomanovsky fails to assassinate Li Hongzhang and is shot dead by his fellow Russians, who confirm their suspicions that he is a spy working for the Japanese embassy. Wong refuses to accept the prize, a gold medal, and says that his victory is a Pyrrhic victory because the competition only led to greater conflict among the Chinese people. He throws the medal back to Li Hongzhang, turns his back on Li and walks away.Jet Li as Wong Fei-hung
Rosamund Kwan as "13th Aunt" Siu-kwan
Max Mok as Leung Foon
Hung Yan-yan as Clubfoot
John Wakefield as Tomanovsky
Lau Shun as Wong Kei-ying
Chiu Chin as Chiu Tin-bak
Wong Tak-yan as Yan
Ge Cunzhuang as Li Hongzhang
1994 Hong Kong Film Awards
Nominated: Best Film Editing (Marco Mak, Angie Lam)
The film was released in Hong Kong on VHS by Paragon Films in 1996. The opening is in Mandarin while the rest of the film is in Cantonese. It was converted from a LaserDisc and some chapters are incorrectly arranged. The film was released again in Hong Kong on DVD by Hong Kong Legends on 21 January 2002.
The Taiwanese release of the film is in Mandarin and has 15 minutes more footage than the Hong Kong version. It was distributed by Long Shong Pictures and features a 4:3 cropped image with embedded Chinese and English subtitles, and the distributor's logo on the upper left corner of the screen.
Both the Hong Kong and Taiwanese versions were released on DVD in North America by Columbia TriStar. There is also an English export version of the film called The Invincible Shaolin. In comparison with the original version, the end credits of The Invincible Shaolin are in English and some footage is cut out.