THE DONUT KING Shows One Man’s Delicious Search for “The American Dream”

Alice Gu’s winning documentary is now available on DVD

Alice Gu’s The Donut King was the film I most looked forward to seeing at SXSW 2020. Sure, there were other, bigger titles set to premiere at the festival, but this unique documentary about a Cambodian immigrant who helped start a boom of independent donut stores in Southern California sounded like something I had to see. Missing out on that possible festival premiere was only one of the many negatives of this pandemic year, but thanks to Kino Lorber, The Donut King is being released on DVD this week.

“Uncle Ted,” as he is called by the many other Cambodian refugees he would help set up donut shops, is called the “Donut King” because of that and his overall impact on the industry in southern California. Gu’s lively documentary moves at a compelling pace; through use of a non-linear timeline, we learn how Ted Ngoy came to America after the Khmer Rouge overtook the Cambodian military, how his family made do in very basic shelter at Camp Pendleton and eventually came to buy a million-dollar mansion a decade or so later, and the many innovations Ngoy and other Cambodian refugees brought to the business of making donuts in America.

Gu shows Ngoy from all angles: the man who would sponsor 100+ Cambodian families fleeing to America is also a Reagan/GOP donor who would come to lose his empire (of sorts) after some shady doings. Through illustration, family photos, and commentary from Ngoy, family members, and former business connections, his moving and incredible story is told. The film is infused with whimsy and unexpected depth.

While viewing the new DVD — a fairly basic package with only a trailer as a bonus feature — I was struck by how Ngoy’s life would make a fascinating biopic. But I doubt any adaptation would capture the same rhythm and drive found in Gu’s documentary, or include the layers of storytelling involved here. In The Donut King, Alice Gu has made one of the best documentaries of the year.

The Donut King is now available on DVD from Kino Lorber.

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