In 1960s Sydney, Hal Stanton (Denholm Elliott) falls in love with Katherine Faulkner (Judy Morris), who has led a sheltered life at an isolated cattle station in the Australian outback.
After a brief, passionate affair, Hal’s dark secret is revealed. During WWII, while a POW of the Japanese in Bangkok, Hal turned in soldiers under his command who were planning an escape. The Japanese executed the men. After the war, Hal was court-martialed. Hal betrayed the soldiers to protect the rest of his men from execution in reprisals, but this was considered irrelevant. He was disowned by his family and has lived with the shame ever since.
Katherine's family break up the relationship and Hal moves despondently away. Soon after, Katherine gives birth to their illegitimate child, Katrina. A delicate, asthmatic girl, Kat is raised alone at the estate, treated as a shameful product of the illicit affair.
Twenty years later, Katherine dies, and Kat (Nicole Kidman) inherits the family fortune, also learning from the family lawyer that her father is not dead, as she was told all her life.
Having never ventured off the estate, Kat travels to London, where Hal’s family lived, to track him down. She finds James Stanton (Lewis Fiander), the uncle she has never met. She overcomes James’s reluctance, James considers Hal dead, due to his shameful behavior in WWII.
Kat meets a handsome American, Arkie Ragan (Jerome Ehlers), who sweeps her off her feet and invites asks her to travel together back to Australia, by way of Goa. As Kat prepares to leave, James confesses that the family lawyer in Bangkok may know where Hal is.
In Goa, Arkie secretly picks up a shipment of narcotics and hides it in Kat’s suitcase. Kat decides to go to Bangkok to hunt down the family lawyer. Arkie strenuously objects to traveling through Thailand, but Kat insists.
In Bangkok, the family lawyer, Richard Carlisle (Hugo Weaving), is unwilling to help. Reluctantly returning to Australia, Katrina is arrested at the airport when the drugs in her suitcase are discovered. Arkie disappears as Kat is detained by Thai authorities.
Kat meets Carlisle in jail. He agrees to tell Hal where she is. Hal is reluctant to meet Kat, but Carlisle convinces Hal to visit her in jail under a false name, pretending to be Carlisle’s legal assistant. Hal is impressed by Kat’s strength.
Kat is charged with trafficking, which carries the death penalty. She is taken to the squalid, overcrowded, Lum Jau prison to await trial and put in a communal cell with other foreigners, ironically nicknamed the "Bangkok Hilton."
Mandy Engels (Joy Smithers), another Australian imprisoned for drug trafficking, teaches Kat how to sneak to the men’s side of the prison, to visit and care for Mandy’s intellectually disabled brother Billy (Noah Taylor), who was arrested with Mandy.
Carlisle convinces Hal to take an active part in the case, working with Kat, but maintaining his false identity as a junior lawyer. However, Hal flatly refuses to visit Kat in Lum Jau. He reveals to Carlisle it is the same prison he was held in by the Japanese forty years earlier and he cannot bear to enter its walls.
Hal finds the courage to go to Lum Jau. Based on Kat’s memories, Hal retraces her footsteps to London, where he is reunited with his estranged brother James.
In London, every trace of Arkie turns into a dead end. Hal continues to Goa, where he chases Arkie to the airport and sees him across a crowd. However, without proof of any crime, Hal cannot convince the Indian police to do anything.
Mandy and Billy are sentenced to death and executed. Soon after, Kat is also found guilty of trafficking and sentenced to death. The despondent Hal suddenly realizes that the escape tunnel his men dug in WWII may still exist, as it was covered over when it was discovered by the Japanese. Kat will only have to get to the men’s side of the prison to access it.
Hal convinces Carlisle, whose entire life has been devoted to defending the law, to break the law in order to save the innocent Kat from execution. Kat reveals she can sneak to the men’s side. After a failed attempt, Kat tries again the night before she’s to be moved to another prison for her execution. Kat sneaks to the men’s side, finds the escape tunnel, and uses it to get into the sewers, where she meets up with Hal and Carlisle. At the airport, Hal reveals to Kat that he is her father, as she boards her plane to Australia.
Hal escapes Bangkok and meets up with Kat in Goa, where they watch as Arkie is arrested and then walk together on the beach as father and daughter.
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