Interviews: Dr. Hank Chien, the Current King of Kong
Posted by Zach Kaplan
Doctor Kong tells all
We recently live blogged former King of Kong Steve Wiebe's attempt to take back the Donkey Kong record, but before last March, we weren't even aware that a new champ was out there. We recently sat down with the New York plastic surgeon to get his thoughts on his rise to fame, competitive playing and more as well as get some info on a new Donkey documentary about the doc himself and the next live Kong competition, at which Chien will face off against Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell and more.
Nintendo Life: Last March, you basically came out of nowhere and toppled the Donkey Kong high score, and now it's back in your hands again. Thanks to The King of Kong, we know well the tale of your main rivals, Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, but what's your back story, and how did you get involved with competitive Donkey Kong playing?
Dr. Hank Chien: For most of my life I've been busy with other things – other hobbies, girlfriends, school and residency. Video games have always been a part of my life, but it always took a backseat to everything else that was happening. After I finished my plastic surgery residency in 2007, for the first time in my life I had a significant amount of free time. Coincidentally that was around the time the King of Kong was released. After I watched the King of Kong, I became very curious about Donkey Kong and decided to start playing for fun. At the time I had no intentions of killscreening the game, let alone setting a world record. I kept getting better and better so I didn't stop. I think you know the rest of the story...
NL: What's your relationship with Steve and Billy like?
HC: I've had a chance to interact personally with both Steve and Billy now. They are both great people. Steve and I have spoken on the phone and exchanged emails. He is always pleasant to talk to and down to earth. Billy and I have met in person and even played a friendly game of Donkey Kong. He's given me some hot sauce and I'm going to give him some soy sauce when I see him next. Although I don't know either very well, I think we are all on good terms.
NL: So, do you think that maybe Billy gets a bad rap because of King of Kong? Do you think it shows him in an unfair light?
HC: Billy definitely got a bad rap in the King of Kong. It's hard for me to comment on the events that happened around that time since I was completely unaware of this scene when it was happening, but from my limited time with Billy I think it portrayed his personality accurately. He's got a very strong personality and either you get it or you don't. He can come across as egotistical but he's just trying to be funny.
NL: How do you see yourself in relation to the world of competitive gaming?
HC: I consider myself an outsider to this whole world of competitive video game playing and classic arcade gaming. I've met a lot of great people and had a lot of great experiences along the way, so I'm grateful that I "accidentally" broke the world record. I've always played video games for fun and still do. I don't think I will actively pursue any other world records, but if I stumble upon another game that I find fun and that I'm good at, it could happen again!
NL: What other games do you enjoy, from retro to current?
HC: I've always been more of a console and current generation gamer. The genres I enjoy most are light gun games and driving games. My favourite series in each of those genres are the Time Crisis series and the Gran Turismo series. However, my all time favourite game is probably Super Mario Galaxy. Since I started playing Donkey Kong, I haven't had much time to play anything else. Although, I've picked up Centipede along the way and I'm getting pretty good at it!
NL: Do you plan to draw any more publicity to your Donkey Kong playing? Live events, classes, anything like that?
HC: I'm always happy to play Donkey Kong live or publicly if the opportunity arises but time is always an issue in my schedule. The Kong Off is probably the next time I will be playing live. I don't really play for the publicity although it has been a fun side effect of all this. As for Donkey Kong classes, I don't think there would be enough interest to teach a class, but certainly if there was an opportunity to do that, it would be fun. Steve Wiebe recently had a Donkey Kong class that I believe was very successful. I do plan on making "Team Chien" t-shirts. I think that would be neat but I can't draw, so I just need to find a graphic designer! There is also a short documentary coming out soon, "Doctor Kong," about my life and the events leading up to my world record and the aftermath that followed. None of this will make me rich or uber famous, but it's certainly entertaining.
NL: What aftermath has followed your toppling the Kong record?
HC: There was a media surge that followed my world record. I couldn't even carry out my normal life because my office phone, cell phone, work email, personal email, and Facebook were all flooded with requests for interviews and appearances, old friends, new friends, fans congratulating me, and of course there was the occasional hater. I was being pulled in a million directions. I also wanted personal time for myself and friends to celebrate, but that was very difficult as well. All of sudden people would want my autograph or a picture taken with me. It was absolutely crazy for a while.
NL: Do you know when we might be able to watch Doctor Kong?
HC: The documentary was just finished recently and so far two screenings have been scheduled. (We've posted the info at the bottom of this article -NL)
I believe these screenings will be for free and a DVD will be available for purchase afterwards (price to be determined). They are working on having more screenings as well. It's also been entered in a lot of film festivals so hopefully it will play at a film festival near you. If not, a DVD will eventually be available online. I had a chance to watch it recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. The film is completely drama free, completely accurate and very professional. I would classify it as a feel good comedy. You can check Doctor Kong The Movie.com for updates. A trailer should be up shortly.
NL: The Kong Off, can you tell us a bit more about that?
HC: The Kong Off is a Donkey Kong competition that will take play on March 19-20, 2011 at Richie Knucklez Arcade Games in Flemington, NJ. Richie invited ten of the top players from across the continent to compete. Among them will be all of the former Donkey Kong world record holders: Billy Mitchell, Tim Sczerby, Steve Wiebe and myself. This will be the first time all of us will be under the same roof simultaneously and going head to head in Donkey Kong. They are still ironing out a lot of the details, but the event looks like it is gaining momentum quickly. He's already been contacted by several radio stations and TV channels to cover the event. You can check The Kong Off.com for updates.
NL: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
HC: Thank you to my family, friends and fans!
Doctor Kong Screenings:
Tuesday, February 22, 2011, 7pm
200 North 14th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Friday, March 18, 2011, 10pm
Richie Knucklez Arcade Games
631 Rt. 12
Flemington, NJ 08822
Nintendo Life would like to thank Dr. Chien for sitting down with us and answering our questions.