Refugees, donuts, and millions of dollars make up the chapters of the epic story of The Donut King. After escaping genocide in Cambodia, Ted Ngoy and his family arrive at Camp Pendleton in 1975 to start life over in the land of possibilities. Directed by Alice Gu, The Donut King was scheduled to have its world premiere at the 2020 SXSW festival. Despite the festival’s cancellation, The Donut King received special Jury recognition for achievement in breakthrough storytelling. Family stories, photos, news footage, and illustrations tell the story of a life left behind and the value of giving back.
The documentary tracks Ted’s escape and arrival to Camp Pendleton. In order to escape genocide or enslavement in Cambodia, it was essential that Ted and his family find a way out. The stories told by Ted, his wife Christy, and their children are some of the most special moments of the film. Genuine gratitude and devotion to each other are expressed as they describe camp life and finally getting sponsored and finding a job and home. Ted starts off small and eventually gets his donut shop. More characters are introduced as Ted gains more success and is able to sponsor his relatives left behind in Cambodia. The cycle of giving back is established as Ted, Christy, and their children sacrifice and to welcome their other relatives who in turn also procure donut shops. This adds more stories of hardship and success to the documentary.
Illustrations are also added to the documentary. News footage is used to take the viewer back in time for historical context. However, vibrant illustrations also come in to paint memories of the horrors of life in Cambodia under Pol Pot’s regime. The illustrations bring memories to life while depicting some of the harsher obstacles of life in Cambodia. The illustrations while grim somehow maintain the otherwise hopeful tone of the documentary. While success comes with some hard times and downfalls, the overall tone of the film is one of joy and celebration.
Alice Gu’s documentary takes a look at an immigrant story that is often neglected. The Ngoy family’s million dollar success is unique, but their story of hard work and survival is one of many immigrant stories. Throughout the film, President Ford is heard discussing the value of immigrants in America. Funny, sad, and informative, The Donut King is a story about ambition and the value of community spirit that adds a chapter for Cambodian immigrants, whose stories have often been neglected.