The Maze Runner's Ki Hong Lee joins the pantheon of YA film stars

By Anjali RaguramanMovies - 10 September 2014 12:39 PM | Updated 12:29 PM

The Maze Runner's Ki Hong Lee joins the pantheon of YA film stars

It’s not every day you see a young Asian-American face in an ensemble cast of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Korean-American actor Ki Hong Lee, 24, snagged the role of Minho, in upcoming young adult thriller ‘The Maze Runner’, out in cinemas on 11 September.

Based on a 2009 novel by James Dashner, the film is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where a group of teenagers are thrown in to a prison of sorts, the Glade, remembering nothing besides their names. Surrounding the Glade are walls that form a maze of paths that change every day. Adding to the drama is the presence of deadly ‘Grievers’, who patrol the walls and paths, making escape all the more impossible.

The elites of the Glade are called Runners, who run the maze each day, trying to find a way to escape. Their captain, Minho, is played by Ki Hong whom YouTube users and Wong Fu Productions fans might recognise from sketches and short films on the channel.

With this film, Ki Hong makes the leap to the silver screen and becomes a bonafide actor. He was so committed to this role that he even wrote his own ‘Runner’s manual’ or a code of conduct for his character. inSing spoke to the young actor about preparing for the extremely physical role, fighting blue-screen ‘Grievers’ as well as his on-set "bromances". Read on to find out more. 

What did it feel like to get the part of Minho?

My agent called me to say that I had an audition for ‘The Maze Runner’. I immediately went out and bought the book and read it that day. I immediately fell in love with the character and I told myself I had to play him. Getting the part of Minho was a dream come true.

How much are you like Minho? From your ‘Runner’s manual’ he seems like a super organised, strait-laced guy.

I'm like Minho in that I would do anything to protect my family just like he would for his fellow Gladers. He is an intense guy and extremely athletic. I'm pretty athletic myself but I think Minho beats me on that. 

From the looks of it, you had to run a lot in the film. How did you prepare for the part both physically and mentally?

As the keeper of the Runners I obviously had to run the most. I had a trainer work with me before the film so that I was in good shape when shooting began. There were several days on set where we would run for hours at a time. It was gruelling but extremely fun. And I got to do all my own stunts.

The cast had to go through survival training before filming too – what was that like?

We did some survival training pre-production. My cast mates and I bonded through that, and the camaraderie that you see in the film happened very organically. There was this one time we were asked to build a fire. Individually we all failed. It was only when we decided to work together that we succeeded in building a fire, and it was the biggest bonfire we'd ever seen. I think the lesson from that day forth was that we needed to come together and work as a team much like the Gladers did in their world. 

What was one of your toughest/most memorable days on set?

I think the last day on set was the toughest and most memorable. I loved working on this movie. The friendships that I formed with the cast and also the experience of making a movie made an indelible mark in my life. After we announced the final "wrap" – I tried my best to keep my emotions in check. It's only when I hugged the director, Wes Ball, and gave him my thanks that I broke down and cried. I didn't want it to end.

What was it like battling the Grievers (biomechanical monsters that patrol the maze)? Was it all green screen and imagination?

Grievers were interesting. They were blue screened and we had styrofoam cutouts of the Grievers heads. When we were battling them we had two stunt guys in blue jumpsuits with hockey masks. We were armed with spears and tried to aim for the styrofoam cut out. It was intense – we would hit the stunt guys and immediately apologised after the take was over. 

The ensemble cast of 'The Maze Runner' also includes (left to right) Aml Ameen ('The Butler'), Kaya Scodelario ('Skins'), Dylan O'Brien ('Teen Wolf'), Will Poulter ('We're The Millers') and Thomas Brodie-Sangster ('Game of Thrones')

Did being a part of YouTube channel Wong Fu Productions help prepare you for acting in a full-length movie?

Absolutely. Working with Wong Fu definitely helped me fine tune my acting. Acting is a muscle that you constantly have to work out. So when I went through a bit of a dry spell in terms of booking jobs – I would do web series and shorts with the Wong Fu guys and that kept me on my toes.

It seems like you have a knack for comedy, too. Is that something you want to pursue? Or do you prefer dramatic roles?

 I love comedy as well as drama. I would love to do more of both genres in the future. 

From your personal YouTube channel it looks like you and the other actors had formed a sort of brotherhood. What was it like being around boys all the time? You and Will Poulter especially seemed to have formed a close bond…

There was certainly a high level of bromance on set. We loved working together and we would get together after filming and have pot luck dinners at someone's room. We all stayed at the same hotel so that helped us bond as a family. After the movie was shot, we would get together whenever someone was in town. We also have a chat room where we text all the cast mates. 

I understand your parents own a restaurant. What would you rather be doing? Cooking soondubu jjigae (Korean tofu stew), or acting in Hollywood movies?

We don't own a restaurant anymore. Those days are behind us. If I weren’t acting I would teach. I was supposed to be a part of a programme called 'Teach For America', but I chose to pursue acting instead.

What did your folks think when you told them you wanted to act?

I definitely would not be acting if not for the full support of my parents. I will never forget a birthday card I received from my parents one year. It read, “Be patient. Success will not come overnight. But if you work hard and stay steadfast... it will happen.” I'm very blessed to have parents that are extremely patient and kind.  

What would you like to say to your fans in Singapore?

Much love to you! Thanks for supporting me and I hope you have a great time watching ‘The Maze Runner’.

Movie Photos

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The Maze Runner
  • The Maze Runner

  • Rated
    PG /
    Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller
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  • (9 Reviews)