The Maze Runner Series, Ki Hong Lee, and Being a Mental Health Advocate

2020.10.01 – Listening to ONF’s Good Good.

Last week I was binge-watching The Maze Runner movies (all three of them) and binge-reading the books (also all three of them). I was struck by how different the movies and the books are, but also how each had something I especially liked about them.

For those who haven’t watch or read the series, please beware of spoilers.

SPOILERS ALERT!

I actually watched the movie first and only picked up the book right after watching the third and final movie. The Maze Runner movie was released in 2014. I remembered getting hooked up right away after watching it. I recognized Thomas Brodie-Sangster (the one who played “Newt” in The Maze Runner) was also the same person who played Jojen Reed in Game of Thrones. Newt and Jojen were my favourite characters, so I was excited when I knew Thomas Sangster played both characters. Unfortunately, both characters died (poor me, or poor them. Mostly poor me).

To be honest, I knew Newt was going to die even before I watched The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure (the second and third), which was why I hadn’t been enthusiastic to follow the series. From 2014 to 2019, I basically avoided the series. At least until last week, when I picked up the second movie as my Artist Date plan for the week.

The Scorch Trials, to be honest, wasn’t really my cup of tea. It was a lot of actions and less of thoughtful decisions. Basically Thomas and the gangs kept getting betrayed, had to escape to different places, getting attacked, and so on. It also focused a lot on Thomas, which was a pity, since there were also a lot of other characters I would like to dig deeper. The ending captivated me though, and I immediately picked up The Death Cure afterwards.

If I had to rank the movies by which I liked the most to the least, the order would be The Maze Runner, The Death Cure, and The Scorch Trials. The Death Cure was thrilling and thought-provoking. In this movie, I took a liking on Minho (played Ki Hong Lee). I was already familiar with Ki Hong Lee as an actor. I had watched several of his short movies (mostly by Wong Fu Productions) and seeing him as Minho, a strong, sarcastic, and short-tempered character, was a whole new different experience. I got so interested that I re-watched The Maze Runner movie again just to see more of his acting. The final verdict is that I really love his acting and his works (he has an IGTV series, Mr Soulmate, which is also very entertaining).

I read several articles on Minho’s characterization and was told that his sarcasm and other traits were shown more through the books. Which is why, after having a marathon of the movies, I had a marathon of the books. And damn, it was good.

Through the book, I took more understanding in all the characters, the plots, the universe, and how it differs from the movies. I like how it ends in the book, since they didn’t find the cure so Newt’s death feels more inevitable than in the movies, where Thomas’s blood is deemed as the true cure (which means in the movie, he actually had the chance to save Newt). I like how Newt’s death was known to Minho in the movie. He at least deserved to see his long-time friend for the last time, even in death. In the book, Minho didn’t even get a goodbye or a letter and he didn’t even know that Thomas killed Newt (that’s just so sad). I like Teresa better in the movie since I can sincerely understand her motives for betraying Thomas.

And I love Gally, both in the book and the movie. Played by Will Poulter (known by his role as Eustace Scrubb in Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), Gally is possibly the most complex character in the series and the one who shows the most character development. He began as one of the main villains, but then proceeded to be the one who saved Thomas and the key character in The Death Cure plot.

END OF SPOILERS.

After finishing The Maze Runner series, I began researching more about Ki Hong Lee. He had mentioned in several interviews that he was grateful and feeling honoured for the chance to play an Asian character in a Hollywood movie. I was not familiar with Hollywood industry or about Asian-American in general, but this made me realize that it’s a breakthrough for an Asian to get roles with strong characters like Minho in The Maze Runner. I mean, I rarely find any movie or TV series from America who has Asian as lead characters. I remembered all the hype when To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Crazy Rich Asians got movie adaptations. I definitely enjoyed the both the books and the movies, but being unfamiliar with Western film industries, I had never noticed the significance before.

In an interview on CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment)’s YouTube channel, Ki Hong mentioned how once he had thought about changing his name into something easier to pronounce (an English name of some sort), but his mother was against it, saying that if people can pronounce names like Tchaikovsky they surely can put an effort to pronounce names such as Ki Hong Lee.

Ki Hong also stated that since there aren’t a lot of opportunities for Asian actors to have an acting career in Western film industry, it’s up to him to create the opportunity. I think I admire him a lot for saying that. Yes, most of the times, opportunity doesn’t come to us. And sometimes looking for it is not enough. We just have to create it by ourselves. Success is not a paved road after all. We have to begin by something.

Many of The Maze Runner casts are mental health advocates. I think I somehow found my way to those kinds of people, like Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Ailee Xu, Stray Kids, BTS, Halsey, and many others. I found myself deeply interested in this topic. For the last two weeks, I had been working on a concept of psychology app for a scientific project competition in my university. I realized that I still have a lot to learn and there are so many ways to help people who struggle with mental health. When my team presented our idea last night during the preliminary stage of the competition, we were given warm response. It seems that more and more people have become aware of the importance of mental health and it is nice to see. I don’t know whether my team would be able to advance to the next stage, but even if we don’t, it is still a fortunate opportunity and I feel proud of what we’ve achieved. The last two weeks have been really busy with college assignments and preparations for the project, so I hope I can take a breather today and tomorrow, before starting to take off again with different projects next week.

Note: I plan to pick up The Fever Code or The Kill Order next. I have noticed that reading a lot, instead of watching YouTube or being buried in college stuffs, improves my mood throughout the day. What about you? What do you do when you need a surge of serotonin?

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