‘Maze Runner’ star Ki Hong Lee navigates his way through Hollywood

November 12, 2014
(Courtesy of Ki Hong Lee)

(Courtesy of Ki Hong Lee)

By Tae Hong

The latest Korean American actor to make a splash on the Hollywood scene isn’t a John, a Ken or a Daniel — he’s a Ki Hong, and if things keep going the way they are, you’ll be seeing his name a lot more often.

Ki Hong Lee, one of the faces behind this fall’s hit dystopian flick “The Maze Runner,” is a Seoul-born, Los Angeles-raised Berkeley grad whose dimpled smile may spark the memories of ABC Family’s “Nine Lives of Chloe King” fans.

The 28-year-old became a silent powerhouse at the Korean box office earlier this fall, charming viewers in his role as runner leader Minho and helping the film overtake both “The Hunger Games” films and “The Guardians of the Galaxy” in the country. The film, which opened at No. 1 in September, has grossed almost $323 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

Lee’s now busy filming a sequel, “The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials,” which, like the first, requires physical training in the degree of what you’d expect from a sci-fi thriller about a group of boys trying to escape an ever-changing maze. The film is an adaptation of a book written by James Dashner.

They’ve got him running “a couple of miles here and there every day,” as he says, but Lee’s not complaining — he’s just happy to have a job.

“I want to do anything and everything I can get my hands on,” he said. “I think, for an actor, just to be employed and to have a steady source of income is a huge blessing.”

He’s one of a steadily growing number of Asian actors to make their ways onto big and small screens in America, a trend that has seen big leaps in the past few years.

“I feel that the Korean community has my back in terms of what I’ve done and where I’ve come from. I appreciate that very much,” Lee said.

Where he’s from is Los Angeles — he worked at his family’s soon tofu restaurant in Little Tokyo and moved around from the Valley to downtown to Glendale to San Fernando Valley since settling in the sprawling, tinsel-lined city as a child.

All the while, the actor held onto his roots with the one thing that always stays with him: his name.

“Yeah, you definitely think about, when you’re in America, getting an American name, whatever that’s supposed to mean, but that’s not who I am,” he said. “I could pick whatever name I want, but it doesn’t hide the fact that I’m Korean American. So why mask it with a name that’s supposedly easier for people to pronounce? … For me, it was just holding onto that, embracing where I come from.”

Ki Hong Lee, third from right, in "The Maze Runner," 2014. (Ben Rothstein/Twentieth Century Fox)

Ki Hong Lee, third from right, in “The Maze Runner,” 2014. (Ben Rothstein/Twentieth Century Fox)

His foray into show biz started after college, when he found himself holding a psychology degree in one hand but dreams of standing in front of the camera in the other.

Before long, he’d found decent representation and a string of legitimate auditions.

It’s all about hard work and gratitude toward what he has when it comes to acting for Lee.

“I think you can’t rest on your laurels and think you’ve done a good job. You’re only as good as your last project in this business,” he said. “I’m just trying to strive for longevity and a long career.”

Lee’s got his eyes on a few hopeful projects going forward, including his desire to one day work with South Korea’s biggest directors — Bong Joon-ho (“Snowpiercer”) and Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”), as he told Yonhap News Agency in October — and with its biggest actor on the silver screen, Song Kang-ho.

“I love him,” Lee said. “I would love to work with him. He’s one of the actors that I looked up to in terms of performance. I think he brings a certain genuineness to his roles. I appreciate him a lot.”

Everything’s an uphill battle for a new-on-the-scene actor. In addition to a role in an upcoming film, “The Stanford Prison Experiment,” fans will see him in Wong Fu Productions’ first feature film, which wrapped last month.

But for now, it’s all-hands-on-deck for the sequel, which is slated for release in September next year. Lee’s busy trying to preserve but flesh out Minho as a character.

“The second movie’s going to be more intense, more action-packed. You’re going to watch it and it’s literally just going to go, go, go right from the get-go,” he said. “Hopefully, fans enjoy it.”


  1. Jieunian

    November 12, 2014 at 8:39 PM

    Definitely loved tmr. I could see your performance improving while the movie unfolds. Expecting much from you Kihong! I’ll always be supportive!

  2. Nut_Siri

    November 12, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    He make our Asian fans pround.
    I love u Kihong oppa >_<

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  4. Dulce Annel

    January 9, 2015 at 2:43 PM

    wuapo Minho!!! :3

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