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This scene happens in many martial arts movies:

It usually starts with some hero wandering into a strange town; orders a bowl of noodles; then a couple of bad guys casually sit down and start harassing the hero because he/she appears weak; this is then followed by the hero beating every bad guy in town and casually walking out of the restaurant.

One recent example of this is with Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

The opening scene of Kung Fu Panda also has a similar scene.

So what is the reference for this scene? When did it first appear? How did it become popularised? What is its country of origin?

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It sort of parallels the western where the new stranger in town goes to the bar and orders a glass of milk... – matt_black Feb 3 '12 at 17:36

This theme is not limited to martial arts movies and makes an appearance in many movie genres. The eating a bowl of noodles can easily be traded out with having a beer in a saloon from any number of westerns.

This device has occurs constantly in westerns. See this clip from a 1939 western:

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