Baking the American Dream: Our Review of ‘The Donut King’

Baking the American Dream: Our Review of ‘The Donut King’

Like the baked goods that he creates, how sweet the rise of the hero can be.

The Donut King tells the story of Ted Ngoy. He’s a Cambodian refugee who turned a single simple donut shop into a multi-million dollar pastry empire. Directed by Alice Gu, King is a fascinating story of one man’s hunger for success and the brokenness of man. Passionate and determined, Ngoy is truly a fascinating subject for any story. Almost Lear-esque in its structure, we bear witness as he begins with nothing, builds his kingdom and sees his downfall as well.

Although in its earnestness and enthusiasm, it’s possible that Donut King may paint too rosy a picture of the American Dream. It’s a concept which has let down so many. Ngoy’s journey is clearly a testament to hard work and seems to fit the Dream narrative. That certainly applies to Ngoy’s journey (especially when held up against life during a civil war of his home land). However, the film appears to suggest that his story is available to anyone by painting America as the land of opportunity. It oversimplifies the hardships and struggles within American culture for others.

Gu’s film balances the narrative amidst two countries. She does an excellent job of identifying to the differences between cultures and the effects on their everyday citizens. As a result, King is not only a testament to one man’s achievements but his passion for justice as well. He continued to climb the ladder of success with his donut kingdom. But Ngoy never forgets the trauma of life in his home country.

As Ngoy’s empire begins to grow, he opted to focus his attention on other Cambodian refugees in need of job training and assistance. (At one point, he even declares that he will only lease franchises to people from his home country.) Ngoy is dedicated to his fellow countrymen. He continued to show care and offer hope to many by allowing them to have a fresh start and solid foundation for a future. This incredible act of justice created opportunities for stable employment for dozens of immigrants. At the same time, he cemented his position as the true Donut King of California.

Underneath the sweet savoring of success, King also points to the trappings of fame and wealth. At the height of his powers, Ngoy was a man who was revered by everyone whom he helps. Yet he is still human and cracks begin to appear in his facade. Despite the fact that Ngoy has done incredible things, he is not a saint. As his vast fortune led to boredom, his kingdom began to fall when his own personal vices stepped in to fill the emotional void. In this way, the film is willing to show the fallen humanity of its hero as he wrestles with the fallout of his bad decisions.

On the hole, The Donut King is a tasty treat that both celebrates and admonishes its hero. Celebrated for his desire to help others, the film also holds Ngoy accountable for his mistakes as well. Never half-baked, The Donut King is an often-delicious treat that shows how high the mighty can rise and fall as a result of their own ambition.

This post was written by
Born at a very early age, Steve is a Toronto-based writer and podcaster who loves to listen to what matters to our culture on screen. When he first saw Indiana Jones steal the cross of Coronado, he knew his world would never be the same and, since then, he’s found more and more excuses to digest what’s in front of him onscreen. Also, having worked as a youth and community minister for almost 20 years, he learned that stories help everyone engage the world around them. He’s a proud hubby, father (x2) and believes that Citizen Kane, Batman Forever (yes, the Kilmer one), and The Social Network belong in the same conversation. You can hear his ramblings on ScreenFish Radio wherever podcasts are gettable or at his website,
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