I’ll admit I never gave much thought to the fact that here in Southern Californians we have a disproportionately high number of donut shops, almost all of them owned and operated by Cambodians. Nor did I realize that one man was responsible for this phenomenon—the same guy who introduced  the now-ubiquitous pink cardboard box.

Alice Gu’s film introduces us to Ted Ngoy, a refugee who escaped from a hellish, war-torn country in 1975, came to the U.S. with no money or friends. He not only made a success of himself; he shared his good fortune with scores of relatives and friends. His secret: hard work in the extreme, a willingness to learn, and sheer determination. It’s an irresistible human-interest story… but it’s only the first chapter of The Donut King.

There is nothing pat or predictable about this fast-paced documentary, despite initial appearances. I don’t want to undermine the work of director Alice Gu or her writing partner Carol Martori. They defy expectations in a way no fictional saga would dare to do. For that reason it would be a crime for me to reveal too much.

The film flashes back to the horror of life in 1970s Cambodia, a tragic offshoot of the Vietnam war that eliminated thousands of lives. It also reminds us that several U.S. presidents welcomed a flood of refugees with open arms.

Ted Ngoy, his wife and family pick up the story and walk us through their unbelievable experience, flying to a strange new country where they didn’t speak our language and had to start life anew. We follow their path to success beyond their wildest dreams.

Paralleling this personal saga is the phenomenon of donuts, which have enjoyed a resurgence of popularity through reinvention (like the cro-nut) and ingenuity on the part of a new generation of entrepreneurs and bakers. For more information on the film, please go to

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024