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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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