Interview: “Doctor Kong” Documents Arcade Champ’s Surgical Precision

Interview: “Doctor Kong” Documents Arcade Champ’s Surgical Precision (photo)

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There’s a reason certain arcade games never really leave the public consciousness. The twitchy panic of “Asteroids,” the interminable march of the pixellated aliens of “Space Invaders” and the surge of revenge from eating a ghost in “Pac-Man” still make all those titles incredibly powerful experiences, long after the heyday of the arcade era.

“Donkey Kong” rates up there as well and the game enjoyed resurgent awareness after Seth Gordon’s acclaimed 2007 documentary “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” chronicled the high-score rivalry of Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell. That film inspired Dr. Hank Chien to try his scalpel-wielding hands at the Nintendo masterpiece. Chien went on to jump right over both Wiebe and Mitchell like so many rolling barrels and is now the current “DK” champion. Filmmaker and actress Alexis Neophytides met Chien just as he was gearing up for his DK journey and recorded him for a year, resulting in the short doc “Dr. Kong.”

040811_Dr_Kong_4.jpgAlexis, it’s not like the “Donkey Kong” game has changed any, so why make another movie about a “Donkey Kong” champion?

Neophytides: Well, I have to say that I would totally agree with you at first glance… but the movie did not start off to be another movie about a Donkey Kong champ and I hope that when you see it you won’t think it is!! I met Hank at Barcade, a bar in Brooklyn that has tons of 80s arcade games. He would come in after work in his scrubs to work on his Donkey Kong skills. I had started working on a feature length documentary called “The Regulars,” which was going to be about 5 or 6 of the regulars at Barcade. Hank was the first “Regular” that I started following around, and it was before he broke the world record. When I asked him to be a part of the project, I had no idea if he would actually break the record, and it didn’t really matter to me. I just really liked him and thought his story was cool and appreciated the fact that this guy who was already successful in his own right as a plastic surgeon was on a quest to be the best a something else. Anyway, I started following him around and then he broke the record! I decided at some point to just concentrate on him and make a short documentary about his story. Docs sometimes evolve like that and take off in another direction from the one you originally have planned… you know, like real life!

Hank, did you have any reservations about being filmed for a full year?


Chien: When I was first approached about making a documentary, I was a bit reserved given the amount of controversy that surrounds this game. I didn’t want my name associated with anything negative, so I had to make sure the documentary would portray me in a good light and be overall positive. Other than that, I thought it would be a fun experience and it certainly was!

Alexis, what did you try to do differently in telling Hank’s story when compared to “King of Kong”?

Neophytides: I had seen “The King of Kong,” maybe about 3 years ago before I had any idea I would ever be involved in this world, and I thought it was really great. I definitely did not want to remake that movie, which was one of the reasons that I kept this film short (it’s 18 minutes) and strictly to Hank’s story. This movie isn’t about all of the ins and outs and intrigue of the gaming world…it’s about one guy’s glimpse into the spotlight through a quirky hobby.

Alexis, did you have any preconceptions about Hank or people who compete for all-time high scores? What were they and how were they true or false?

Neophytides: Not really. I have known a bunch of gamers for years through this bar that I mentioned before, Barcade, and I know that gamers come in all shapes, colors, sizes and types!

Doctor Kong (trailer) from alexis on Vimeo.

Hank, when did your DK obsession start? Did you ever consider competing for a world record in another game? Do you have other games that you’re as passionate about?

Chien: I started playing seriously in November 2008. It was shortly after I watched “The King of Kong” which got me interested in the game. I’m not sure I would call it an obsession though; it was more like a hobby. When I started playing, it was purely out of curiosity and fun. I had no intention of breaking the world record and in fact, I almost retired several times along the way. I’ve never played video games for world records. It’s always been about recreation for me. Although I do play other video games, I don’t have any plans to set any other world records. I was mainly a console game player before Donkey Kong. Given my story with “Donkey Kong,” I don’t know if any other games will ever be as meaningful.

Billy and Steve live quieter lives than you as an NYC plastic surgeon and maybe the championship might’ve meant more to them psychologically, in terms of achievement, spotlight and adoration. What does it mean to you, Hank?

Chien: I think Billy may be used to the spotlight from all his video game achievements of the past. I believe Steve, like myself, leads a relatively normal life outside of “Donkey Kong.” To me, it was a fun chapter in my life. I don’t plan on holding the world record forever. No matter how high I score, I know someone will always want to beat it and at some point I just have to call it quits. I’ve met so many great people along the way so I’m grateful for what this video game has done for me. I have no regrets!


Have you met Steve and Billy? Do you feel like the portrayal of them in King of Kong are accurate, or were liberties taken?

Chien: I have now met both Steve and Billy in person. I feel their personalities were both portrayed accurately in “The King of Kong.” However, given Billy’s personality, it was easy to edit him to look like the villain. He has a sense of humor that doesn’t come across well on camera– add some Hollywood editing on top of it and you have a Hollywood villain.

There’ve been studies that say that doctors who play games are likely t be more adept at laparoscopic procedures? Have you found that the hand-eye co-ordination you use to play games carries over to doing surgical procedures?

Chien: Yes there are now at least a couple of studies that correlate video game skills with surgical skills. In every study I’m aware of, there is a good correlation between the two. However, there is a difference between a correlation and a cause-effect. In my opinion the two are correlated, but I don’t think there is a cause-effect relationship. As an example, basketball players are tall. However does playing basketball make you tall? It’s much the same. Good video game players have good surgical skills, but does playing video games make you a better surgeon? I think the common bond here is good hand-eye coordination.

How do you feel about modern video games? What are your favorites and what have you enjoyed most recently Is there anything that appeals to you in the same way that “Donkey Kong” does?

Chien: Before Donkey Kong, I’ve always been a modern console gamer. The modern games have a different feel to them compared to the classics. Modern games are more about progressing through the game. You can pause and you can save. You can play recklessly, die and just continue from your last save. They are well suited for their purpose–to provide home entertainment. The classics are more about how high can you score on a single credit. There’s no reload if you make a mistake. They are well suited for their purpose–to eat your quarters. I haven’t played many modern games since I started playing Donkey Kong–I only have time for one video game at a time in my life. “Super Mario Galaxy” was the last game I played before “Donkey Kong” and “Super Mario Galaxy 2” is still sealed sitting on top of my Wii begging to be opened.


Aspiring competitive gaming players want to know: has playing Donkey Kong and/or winning the championship gotten you laid more than being a plastic surgeon?

Chien: I plead the Fifth. LOL.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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