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In 1954, along a mountain range known as the China Gate, a small Northern Vietnamese village remains as the last holdout against the steadily encroaching Communist doctrine voiced by Ho Chi Minh. The starving peasants have paid dearly for their idealism, and are pounded daily by bombs. One day, a little boy guards his puppy from the hungry villagers, running to his mother, Lucky Legs, the infamous woman who operates the local saloon. The French, who have occupied Indochina for 300 years, are trying to keep it from being overrun by the Communists, and have assigned Colonel De Sars a ragtag band of soldiers of fortune, whose goal is to locate the tunnels in which the Communists have secreted their vast artillery supplies. To help ferret out the tunnels, the colonel also turns to Lucky, whose many treks across the jungle selling cognac to the soldiers have given her a familiarity with both the Communists and the territory. The China Gate is guarded by Major Cham, a half-caste Vietnamese officer who is in love with Lucky. When Lucky protests that this is not her war, the colonel reminds her that although she appears Caucasian, she is really half Vietnamese, and then offers her $5,000 and a new bar in exchange for guiding the demolition patrol. Instead, Lucky bargains to have her five-year-old son sent to the safety of America. After the colonel agrees to her terms, he introduces her to the American explosives expert who is to lead the expedition, Johnny Brock. Upon seeing Brock, Lucky slaps his face and storms off. Brock, who was married to Lucky when she was an idealistic girl known as Lia, walked out on her after she gave birth to their Asian-looking son. When the colonel informs Brock that Lucky had agreed to cooperate to save her son, Brock asks Father Paul's help in persuading her to change her mind. The priest, who loathes Brock for his treatment of Lia, retorts that Brock's rejection caused her to turn to a life of prostitution and drugs. After the priest refuses to help, Brock visits Lucky and sees his son for the first time in five years. Brock, who cannot accept the half-caste boy, admonishes Lucky not to condemn the child to a life in Vietnam just to spite his father. Lucky relents, and Brock begins to organize the expedition under the command of the French officer, Captain Caumont. The group consists of Brock, whose lust for adventure caused him to join the French Foreign Legion; Goldie, a dedicated opponent of Communism; Private Jaszi, a Czech patriot who hates the Russians for what they have done to his country; Private Andreades, a Greek; and several French soldiers who wonder why the Americans are not providing more aid to the French effort. Brock divides the highly explosive primers in two, and gives half to Goldie and keeps the rest. When they reach the first Communist camp, Communist soldiers welcome Lucky and her cases of cognac. While Lucky distracts the soldiers, Brock and the others skirt by the camp. After stopping for the night, Jaszi has a nightmare about a Russian soldier and attacks Goldie in his sleep. Concerned about Jaszi's mental stability, Brock cold-bloodedly announces that he must die. When Jaszi begs to be allowed to finish the mission, Brock gives him a reprieve. After making their way past a Communist-occupied village, the group enters a jungle littered with land mines. Lucky warns that a guard is watching from a tree house high above them, and makes her way to the lookout to disarm him. After the guard, a friend of Lucky's, apprises her of the location of the jungle mines, Brock stealthily enters and slits his throat. Alone in the tree house, Brock and Lucky embrace and admit that they have feelings for each other. When Lucky realizes that Brock still is unable to accept their son, however, she breaks down in tears. The next day, as they continue their journey, Private Andreades slips from a steep ridge and breaks his back. As he lays dying, he chastises Brock for his treatment of Lucky. When Brock defends himself by insisting that he was only being honest about his feelings for their son, Lucky replies that he is the only person who has ever made her ashamed of her mixed race. That night, when the Communists open fire on the expedition, Brock uses half the explosives to blow them up. Later, surrounded by Communists, Goldie steps on a spike protruding from the jungle floor and must endure the excruciating pain in silence. As Brock bandages Goldie's foot, Goldie, simmering with resentment against Brock, explains that his wife died because she could not give him a child. Goldie then vows to get Lucky and her son to safety in the States. Pushing on through the jungle, the band finally comes to the China Gate. There, Cham welcomes Lucky, and she reminds him of a time when he hated the brutality of war and the Communists. Cham, thirsting for power at the hands of the Russians, chides her for deserting him for an American and then offers to marry her and adopt her son. To impress Lucky, he shows her the tunnel packed with arsenal. Lucky, appalled, calls it a butcher shop. She then reports the position of the tunnel and its guards to Brock, who confesses that he is still in love with her and is finally ready to accept his son. When Brock asks Lucky to marry him, she replies that they were never divorced. Later, at the tunnel, Lucky distracts the guards with jokes as Brock and the others line the tunnel with fuses. Just as they are ready to detonate, Cham appears and detains Lucky. As Cham proudly announces that he is being sent to Moscow, the phone rings and he learns of Lucky's betrayal. When he coldly informs her that the wires into the tunnel have been cut, thus thwarting the mission, Lucky pushes him off the balcony. She then darts into the tunnel and uses a primer to detonate the explosives, sacrificing herself. In the ensuing hail of gunfire, only Goldie, Caumont and Brock survive. They hijack a plane, taking off just as the entire mountain explodes, but when Caumont, who is piloting the aircraft, passes out and dies from his injuries, the plane careens out of control and crashes into the jungle. Unharmed, Brock and Goldie climb out of the plane. After collecting his wages, Brock claims his son and his puppy, taking the boy by the hand to begin the long journey to America. As they pass, Goldie sings the song "China Gate."