A reminder of how immigrants help build this country, year after year
"The Donut King" (2020 release; 90 min.) is a documentary about the life and times of Ted Ngoy. As the movie opens, we are in today's southern California, as we are intro to various donut shops and its owners, talking about (in)famous Uncle Ted, who started it all back in the 1970s. We then go back in time as Ted Ngoy talks about his upbringing in Cambodia, and how he and his wife and kids fled the Khmer Rouge in 1075, ending up in a tent city in California, along with tens of thousands other Cambodian refugees. It's not long after that in Tustin, CA where Ngoy is introduced to donuts to his immediate delight, and he enrolls for donut-making training at Winchell's Donuts... At this point we are less than 15 min. into the documentary.
Couple of comments: this is the debut feature-length film for writer-director Alice Gu. Here she retells the improbable story of Ted Goy, who feels the civil war in Cambodia, only to find his feet in southern California, where eventually builds an empire of donut shops. And that is just the beginning of it! I must admit that I had never heard of this guy, and it was a delight to get to know more about his accomplishments (both successes and failures, I might add). Imagine the audacity of President Ford, imploring Congress in 1975 to open the borders to tens of thousands of Cambodian refugees as the Khmer Rouge is overtaking the last parts of Cambodia. Can you imagine it today? I say this as an immigrant myself (I arrived in the US for graduate studies in the early 80s and eventually settled here). Besides the immigrant story, the documentary of course also focuses on the donut industry. Along the way we learn that there are 5,000 (!) independent/family-owned donut shops in California, of which more than 90% are owned by Cambodian-Americans. Absolutely amazing. The last part of the film focuses on how these shops survive and even thrive in today's age against big corporations like Dunkin Donuts.
"The Donut King" opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, fully adhering to all COVID-19 protocols. Not that it mattered, as the early Saturday evening screening where I saw this at was attended dismally (1 other person besides myself). If you have any interest in watching a good ol' fashioned immigration story or are simply a lover of donuts, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater (if you can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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