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film review

Cambodian refugee Ted Ngoy built a multi-million-dollar empire baking donuts and invented the famous hot-pink doughnut boxes.Handout

  • The Donut King
  • Directed by Alice Gu
  • Written by Alice Gu, Carol Martori
  • Starring Ted Ngoy, Christy Ngoy
  • Classification NA; 124 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

The question as to why so many independent doughnut shops in California are owned and run by Cambodian-Americans is not something on most people’s minds.

Nevertheless, with her upbeat immigration story The Donut King, the director Alice Gu makes the answer well worth watching. Her documentary is on Ted Ngoy, a smooth-talking former major in the Cambodian army who escaped his war-torn country with his family in the 1970s.

Alice Gu's documentary is on Ngoy, a major in the Cambodian army who escaped his war-torn country with his family in the 1970s.Handout

Working odd jobs initially, Ngoy made a fortune on deep-fried dough, building an empire of pastry parlours and helping countless other immigrant families get their start in the business too. The high-caloric film is a 99-minute commercial for doughnuts and the American dream.

But, like any sugar-high, a crash is inevitable. Ngoy developed a gambling addiction and lost his shops. His son tells a story about the disappearance of a paper bag full of $85,000 while Ngoy was in police custody. How did that happen? We aren’t told. Same with the segment about Ngoy’s bizarre courtship of his wife. He spent 45 days under her bed, but, according to his autobiography, there is way more to the story left untold by director Gu.

Ted's son Christy Ngoy tells a story about the disappearance of a paper bag full of $85,000 while his father was in police custody.Handout

So, there are holes in this doughnut story. Still, it’s a fine yarn spiced up with moments of hip hop, animation and pop culture references, all packaged nicely in something like the hot-pink doughnut boxes that the cruller maestro Ngoy supposedly invented.

The Donut King streams Nov. 19 to Dec. 31 across Canada, via Films We Like..

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