The Search for General Tso

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The Search for General Tso
Directed byIan Cheney
Produced by
Music by
  • Ben Fries
  • Simon Beins
  • Ian Cheney
  • Taylor Gentry
Edited byFrederick Shanahan
Wicked Delicate Films
Distributed bySundance Selects
Release date
Running time
73 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Search for General Tso is a documentary film that premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. It was directed by Ian Cheney and produced by Amanda Murray and Jennifer 8. Lee.[1] Sundance Selects acquired it in December 2014, and was released January 2, 2015, in theaters and on demand.[2]


The film begins by exploring theories about General Tso. The film then shifts focus to China,[3] where few recognize the eponymous dish.[4] The film then traces Tso's real-life history in the Qing Dynasty as well as the history of Chinese immigration to the United States.[1] Interviewed are a number of notable figures in Chinese-American cuisine, such as Cecilia Chiang of The Mandarin, a world record-holder for restaurant menus[5] and Chef Peng Chang-kuei, who invented the dish in Taiwan.[3]


Around 2004, Cheney and his best friend were driving across America when they stopped at a Chinese restaurant "with red booths and neon signs" and ordered General Tso's chicken. The experience prompted them to investigate the history of Chinese food in America.[6]

In 2008, Lee wrote a book about the history of Chinese food in the United States and around the world, titled The Fortune Cookie Chronicles,[7] documenting the process on her blog. She reported the unlikely, but true, story of how a batch of fortune cookies created 110 Powerball lottery winners.[8] To the surprise of many non-Chinese readers, she reported that fortune cookies are found in many countries but not China and that fortune cookies may have originated in Japan.[9][10] Warner Books editor Jonathan Karp struck a deal with Lee to write a book about "how Chinese food is more all-American than apple pie".[11] She appeared on The Colbert Report to promote the book.[12] The book was #26 on The New York Times Best Seller list.[13]

The book research is the basis of Lee's documentary collaboration with Cheney. In addition to premiering at Tribeca, the film played at the Seattle International Film Festival[14] AFI Docs,[15] and the Independent Film Festival of Boston.[16]

Critical reception[edit]

Film reviews were generally positive, with critics finding the premise amusing and the conclusion thought-provoking. Scott Foundas of Variety called it "a finger-lickin' good foodie docu" and John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter predicted, "Festival auds should eat it up."[1][5]


  1. ^ a b c DeFore, John. "'The Search for General Tso': SIFF Review". The Hollywood Reporter.
  2. ^ The Deadline Team. "Sundance Selects Nabs 'General Tso'; Warner Bros Shifts 'Pan' Release, Titles Horror Pic, More". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  3. ^ a b Stern, Marlow. "'The Search for General Tso': The Origins of America's Favorite Chinese Dish, General Tso's Chicken". The Daily Beast.
  4. ^ DeJesus, Erin. "Watch a Trailer for The Search for General Tso". Eater.
  5. ^ a b Foundas, Scott. "Tribeca Film Review: 'The Search for General Tso'". Variety. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  6. ^ Marsh, Lisa. "The Truth About Your Chinese Food: The Search For General Tso Premieres At The Tribeca Film Festival". Epicurious. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  7. ^ Lee, Jennifer 8. (2008). The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. New York: Twelve Books. ISBN 0-446-69897-0. OCLC 225870250.
  8. ^ Jennifer 8. Lee (May 11, 2005). "Who Needs Giacomo? Bet on the Fortune Cookie". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Jennifer 8. Lee (January 16, 2008). "Solving a Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside a Cookie". The New York Times.
  10. ^ 8. Lee, Jennifer (January 16, 2008). "Fortune Cookies are really from Japan". The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. Archived from the original on July 25, 2011.
  11. ^ "Jennifer 8. Lee Attracts Americans with Chinese Food" Archived 2008-10-17 at the Wayback Machine, October 13, 2008. Source: Xinhua/Translated by
  12. ^ "Jennifer 8. Lee on The Colbert Report on Tuesday, March 4th, 2008"
  13. ^ "Best Sellers, Hardcover Nonfiction, March 30, 2008"
  14. ^ "Seattle International Film Festival".
  15. ^ "AFI Docs - The Search for General Tso".
  16. ^ "Independent Film Festival of Boston".

External links[edit]