The setting is Laos, during the CIA’s illegal and extraordinarily violent “secret war” of the early 1970’s. The plot revolves around a CIA special ops agent named ZACK, a beautiful young Laotian doctor called NITA, and their brutal, narcissistic leader, JIMMY LOVE, based on a real character who fought the Communists in Laos for many years.
The CIA has engaged them all to work with the local Hmong tribesmen in their “shadow war “against Pathet Lao forces in supposedly neutral Laos. Yet each of them has a personal objective. Zack wants to pay back the Communists for the annihilation of his last platoon. Nita, a secret Pathet Lao spy, wants to avenge the death of her father, killed by the CIA. Jimmy wants pay-back for his Lao wife KALEA and best friend VANG, who ran off together to join the enemy.
Thrown together in battle and at the mountain firebase where they are employed, Zack and Nita fall desperately in love, even though she has seduced Jimmy Love and become his mistress to filch military secrets from him.
At one point, when Zack and Nita are caught in a rainstorm and Zack tenderly holds his jacket over Nita’s head to protect her from the downpour, she seems on the point of confessing some terrible secret, but Zack doesn’t want to hear it.
The next day a Pathet Lao turncoat exposes her as a Communist spy. Jimmy is on the point of chopping her head off with his sword when Zack steps in and knocks him out. When Nita encourages him to kill Jimmy, he refuses, and prevents her from doing so. “You will regret this someday,” she tells him.
Pursued by Jimmy Love and his small army, Zack and Nita escape down a wild river and hide out in an abandoned village. A few days later, a pair of young Communist soldiers come upon them and inform them that the war’s over; a peace treaty has been signed in Paris.
The young guerrillas take Zack and Nita to a Pathet Lao camp. Nita is overjoyed that the war is over and that she and Zack can now be together as man and wife. But the camp’s commander, Vang, and his female companion and commissar, Kalea, pull guns on Zack with the intention of shooting him as a “murdering White bastard” despite the truce. There’s a shoot-out. Zack and Nita kill Vang and Kalea and run for their lives.
Exhausted, they reach the Mekong River, engage a boatman to row them across to Thailand, and have never been happier in their lives. Halfway across, when Zack expresses regrets that they have burnt all their bridges, and have no countries to go back to, Nita laughs with joy and says, “Love has no country, Zack. It’s a whole world in itself.”
Back on the Lao side of the river, Jimmy Love and his men run up on the bank, and one of fires an RPG. The rocket floats across the river in slow motion, as Zack and Nita continue to laugh and hug each other.
A tremendous explosion. The boat is blown to bits. The camera withdraws into the sky as the shattered pieces flutter to the surface of the river and float away.
In a voice-over, lost in space, Nita says, in a happy, encouraging kind of voice, “See, Zack, there’s no country here. And we’ll be together, forever.”