What do donuts and a DeLorean have in common? In the case of the two documentaries reviewed below, each contains stories about individuals who achieved great success only to lose it all over bad decisions and poor choices. In both cases, greed, self-interest, and self-preservation prevailed.
The Donut King – Written by Alice Gu and Carol Martori, Directed by Alice Gu
First up is the story of Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian refuge who rose to prominence from the success of a chain of donut stores. Ted’s rise to donut king began from the moment he first tasted a donut. He wanted to learn all he could about the donut business. He began working for Winchell’s, the largest operator of donut stores in Los Angeles. Once he learned the ins and outs of the donut business, he left to start his own donut shop.
His modest success allowed him to sponsor other Cambodian refugees. Once in America, Ted offered to teach his fellow countrymen the donut business and persuaded them to open their own donut shops. In return, they would enter a lease arrangement with Ted, providing him with thousands of dollars a month in lease payments.
Ted became very wealthy and was well respected. He threw it all away over an addiction. An addiction that in many ways wiped out all the good he had done prior. In looking back over his rise, it’s hard not to think that his benevolence early on had more to do with the possibility of income for himself rather than to help other refugees. I won’t spoil the story here about the addition that caused his downfall. I will only say that I don’t believe it was his only character flaw.
This documentary is available on Amazon Prime.
The Framing of John DeLorean written by Dan Greeney and Alexandra Orton, Directed by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce
The second rise and fall story is the story of John Delorean. Here is a man who was considered a visionary in the automotive industry. He was a top executive at General Motors. He headed the Pontiac division and was instrumental in the development of the widely successful Pontiac GTO. After leaving GM, he started his own company and came out with the futuristic Delorean automobile.
Behind the scenes, however, John Delorean was more of a con man than a visionary. He dumped his first wife, had plastic surgery, and pursued attractive younger women. His second wife was just nineteen years old when they married.
When it came time to build a factory for his bat-winged Delorean, he chose Ireland, which was facing economic hardships and civil unrest at the time. His pitch to the Government was that if they provided startup funds, he would build his factory there, bringing thousands of jobs to the region.
It seemed like a win-win for everyone. But Ireland did not have any workers who had experience in automobile manufacturing. The first batch of cars had quality control problems. Additionally, those first cars came out just as the United States was entering a depression. It wasn’t long before Delorean faced financial difficulties. His efforts to solve that crisis would affect not just him but his family and the thousands of workers who relied on him. He should have followed Spike Lee’s advice, “Do the right thing.”
This documentary makes use of dramatizations to help tell the story. Alec Baldwin plays John DeLorean. The actor does a commendable job, but the behind-the-scenes footage distracts more than benefits. The documentary is available for viewing on Netflix