Set in the year 1935, the film opens in Shanghai, China, where famous blonde American nightclub singer Wilhelmina "Willie" Scott (Kate Capshaw) of Club Obi-Wan is singing an English/Chinese version of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" - a lavish, sultry, and bizarre production number bathed in reddish smoke, reminiscent of a Busby Berkeley choreography.
Famous archaeologist Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is in the audience at the table of Chinese crime boss Lao Che (Roy Chiao), demanding payment (a large and precious diamond) for his services in obtaining Lao's royal ancestor - the "remains of Nurhachi, the first Emperor of Manchu Dynasty" - his cremated remains are in a jade urn.
Willie: Aren't you gonna introduce us?
Lao Che: This is Willie Scott; this is Indiana Jones, a famous archaeologist.
Willie: Well I always thought that archaeologists were always funny looking men going around looking for their mommies.
Lao Che: So it's true? You've found Nurhachi?
Indiana: You know I did. Last night one of your boys tried to get Nurhachi without paying for him.
Kao Kan holds his bandaged hand.
Lao Che: You have insulted my son.
Indiana: No, you have insulted me. I spared his life.
Indiana: [to Lao Che] I suggest you give me what you owe me... or 'Anything Goes!'
Indy drinks his martini, Lao Che's henchmen laugh as he holds up a vial.
Willie: What's that?
Lao Che: Antidote.
Indiana: To what?
Lao Che: [matter-of-factly] The poison you just drank.
Kao Kan: [laughing] Too much to drink, Dr. Jones?
The hood double-crossed him - he then bargains to exchange the life-saving antidote for the diamond. An epic melee breaks out in the nightclub involving revolvers, machine guns, a struggle to obtain the diamond and the antidote vial (both being kicked around on the floor), ice cubes, and black and white balloons everywhere.
Indiana: [meeting on the floor] The antidote!
Willie: Where's the diamond?
Willie (with the vial) and Indy escape behind a giant rolling brass gong, and jump from a window of the multi-storied building to an awaiting luxury car/taxi below.
Driving the car is Indy's diminutive ten year-old Chinese sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan).
Short Round: Wow! Holy Smoke! Crash landing!
Indiana: Short Round, step on it.
Short Round: Okey dokey, Dr. Jones.
The kid turns his cap around.
Short Round: Hold on to your potatoes!
Willie: For crying out loud, there's a *kid* driving the car!
Indiana: Relax, I've been giving him lessons.
Indy is groping desperately down Willie's dress.
Indiana: Where's the antidote?
Willie: Oh, listen, I just met you! Oh, I'm not that kind of girl...
Short Round: Hey, Dr. Jones, no time for love. We've got company.
The chase continues through Shanghai's narrow streets and back alleys as they are fired upon. At the airport, the threesome board a Pan American Airways propellor plane, believing it was bound for Siam.
However, it is actually Lao's air-freight plane piloted by his hoods.
Willie: So what are you supposed to be, a lion tamer?
Indiana: I'm allowing you to tag along. So why don't you give your mouth a rest. Okay doll?
Willie: What do you mean "tag along"? Ever since you got into my club, you haven't been able to take your eyes off of me.
Indiana: Oh, yeah?
Indy tugs his hat down over his eyes, and falls asleep.
As they sleep in the back of the plane during the flight, Lao's pilots dumps fuel from the plane and then parachutes to safety ("No one's flying the plane!" Willie screamed).
Willie goes to the front of the plane, and sees the cockpit is empty.
Willie: Oh, no... oh, no...
She runs back and starts shaking Indy awake.
Willie: Mister! Mister! Oh, Mister, wake up!
Short Round: [waking up] You call him Dr. Jones, doll!
Willie: Okay, Dr. Jones! Dr. Jones, wake up!
Willie: You know how to fly, don't you?
Indiana: Um, no. Do you?
To save themselves, Indy transforms an inflatable emergency rubber raft into a parachute.
Willie: We're not sinking, we're CRASHING!
The aircraft begins to sputter and lose altitude, and then goes into a tailspin. They are forced to abandon the plane over the Himalayas to avoid crashing.
They land on a sloped, snowy mountaintop and use the float as a tobaggan to sled down the steep incline. The yellow dinghy plunges off a steep cliff into wild river rapids - where the raging river takes them to the base of the Mayapore hills in East India.
They are guided by an elderly shaman, Sajnu (D.R. Nanayakkara), to the ominous, burned-out, desolate, cursed village of Mayapore.
The village is filled with poor and starving villagers, where they are informed that at Pankot Palace ("with the power of the Dark Light"), there is a new maharaja.
"It is that place kill my people...The evil start at Pankot, then like monsoon it moves darkness over all country...They came from palace and took Sivalinga from our village" - the village's strange, sacred, and precious mystical stone.
A Shiva lingam (possibly one of the five lost Sankara stones "with magical properties") has been stolen from their shrine, and the village has been under a curse of famine and misery ever since. The Shaman insists Shiva brought Indy and gang there to help them . . .
Indiana: We weren't brought here. Our plane crashed.
Willie: [nodding and smiling] It crashed.
Shaman of Maypore: [laughing] No, no, no. We prayed to Shiva to help us find the stone. It was Shiva who made you fall from sky. So you will go to Pankot Palace... and find Shivalinga... and bring back to us. Bring back to us. Bring back to us.
Outside, the Shaman continues the village's tragic story: The village's wells dried up and the river turned to sand.
The crops were swallowed by the earth and the animals laid down and turned to dust.
A fire set in the fields was a diversion, allowing the evil Maharaja's men to steal the village's children.
Indy isn't convinced and only wants to hurriedly get to Delhi to return to his university teaching in America, until he hears about the stolen children and witnesses the appearance of an escapee from the evil palace - a weakly boy named Ranjit.
He surmises the stolen stone might be one of the five fabled Sankara stones, meaning "fortune and glory" and changed his mind: "We're going to Pankot Palace."
They travel through the jungle and other tropical landscapes to Pankot Palace via elephants and with the assistance of local guides.
After getting dumped into a pond . . .
Willie: [crying] I was happy in Shanghai! I had a little house, and a garden! My friends were rich, we went to parties all the time in limousines! I *hate* being outside!
Willie angrily splashes the water]
Willie: [gasps] I'm a singer! I could lose my voice!
Indiana: I think we'll camp here tonight.
Indiana: Willie, Willie, Willie. What kind of a name is that? Is it short for something?
Willie: Willie is my professional name, Indiana.
Short Round: Hey, lady! You call him Dr. Jones!
Indiana: *My* professional name.
Willie is freaking out over the creatures of the jungle.
Indiana: [on Willie's incessant screaming] The biggest trouble with her is the noise.
Indy and Shorty are playing cards . . .
Short Round: I'm very little! You cheat very big!