Tag Archives: film

Ki Hong Lee - Maze Runner

Ki Hong Lee Makes His Feature Debut With ‘The Maze Runner’

by RUTH KIM

For Ki Hong Lee, it all started at camp. The Korean American actor first flexed his acting muscles while performing a skit at a church retreat.

“I just had so much fun with it,” says Lee. “I knew from that moment on, in the back of my mind, that I really wanted to give acting a shot.”

Lee, who was born in Korea and lived shortly in New Zealand before moving to Southern California (“That’s why I don’t have a New Zealand accent, unfortunately”), is a firm believer in doing what you love and never giving up. This mantra carried him through his first years of acting.

“I just went all in and started training and doing everything I could,” says Lee. “I did as much theater as I could, and I read every play that I could get my hands on.”

With the constant support of his parents, whom he calls his “biggest fans,” Lee gradually built his resume with a slew of small acting gigs, including playing a busboy in a Modern Family episode, a main character lead on ABC Family’s Nine Lives of Chloe King and various love-entangled roles in rom-com shorts by YouTube channel WongFu Productions. Already, the actor in his early 20s can count his stints of acting at camp retreats a thing of the past.

And when Lee found himself pitching tents and making s’mores over a campfire again, it was while bonding with castmates on the set for upcoming action thriller The Maze Runner.

The highly anticipated film, which hits theaters Sept. 19, marks Lee’s debut on the big screen. Set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian society, the film (based on the best-selling, eponymous book by James Dashner) centers around a group of boys who end up trapped in an open expanse called The Glade. Surrounded by high stonewalls, the space is enclosed by a dangerous maze that changes its pattern every night—it’s virtually impossible to escape.

“I play this character who is the head leader of the maze runners, the group of boys who are selected to run the maze and figure out a way out,” explains Lee of his character, Minho.

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 10.07.21 AMA scene from ‘The Maze Runner’

He is focused on one goal: to help his friends survive and find a way out. Lee definitely breathes life into Minho, not only taking on the character’s personality, but also committing to almost every physical feat described in the novel.

“It was definitely an artistic challenge and a physical challenge every day… but we were so passionate about the project, you know? We had stunt doubles, but we never used them, Dylan and I. When we were running in the maze, that’s us running,” says Lee, referring to his co-star, Dylan O’Brien. “When Dylan was tired, I tried to push him, and when I was tired, he’ll push me. We kept each other accountable.”

The camaraderie that developed between Lee and his co-stars happened overnight. “It was bromance from day one,” confesses Lee, who says that the natural chemistry helped to translate the story credibly from paper to screen. “These characters have been in this place called the Glade for three, four, five years, so in order to get that kind of fluidity between characters, you need to spend time with your co-stars. But thankfully it kind of happened organically, it wasn’t forced at all.”

Lee says it was especially gratifying, as an Asian American actor, to get to play such a strong role in a major feature film. “We have this Asian character who is one of the leaders,” he says. “I really liked that it was different from any other role that I’ve crossed.”

Notably, the character of Minho was based on author Dashner’s real-life relative of the same name.

“I thank God mostly for that guy,” says Lee, laughing. “Without him being involved in James Dashner’s life, this would not have happened. It’s crazy how some of these things work out, and I’m just thankful for this opportunity to bring this character to life.”

‘The Maze Runner’ premieres in theaters today. 

This article was published in the August/September 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August/Sept. issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

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SKorean Smartphone Film Festival Features Eclectic Entries

by JAMES S. KIM

In a world of YouTube and viral videos, smartphone footage is found aplenty online. But among the masses, there are those who push the boundaries of what stories can be filmed with a smartphone camera, and when it’s done correctly, the results can be quite interesting.

South Korea’s fourth Olleh International Smartphone Film Festival announced this year’s eight winners earlier this week, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The awards went to short films that were created exclusively on mobile devices.

It’s a fitting contest for a country that has 80 percent of its population using smartphones. A jury of Korean filmmakers handed out the awards this year to a diverse group of films and contestants, ranging from elementary school students to a 73-year-old man representing 43 countries. Nearly 1,000 films were submitted, marking a 30 percent increase from last year’s submissions.

In the 10-minute category, Kim Tae-yung’s Artificial Intelligence and Sylvain Certain’s Cercle Vicieux took the $8,000 cash prize and smart device. Yoo Su-jin’s The Prayer and Sathapranavan Sathasivam’s God is Dead took the top honors for the one minute category.

Artificial Intelligence:

The Future of Tongue:

Four special prizes of $3,000 and a smart device were given to filmmakers from Korea. You can view the rest of the winning films at the festival’s website.

joe-hahn-mall

Linkin Park’s Joe Hahn To Make Directorial Debut with ‘Mall’

Joe Hahn has directed more than 30 music videos for Linkin Park, along with a number of other projects, so turning his skills over to film probably was a pretty natural transition.

The Linkin Park musician will be making his directorial film debut with Mall, based on Eric Bogosian’s 2001 novel. The story follows five dissatisfied suburbanites who find themselves in a shopping mall when a man begins firing at people. The incident not only radically changes his life, but also those of the others who are forced to deal with the life-threatening situation.

“It’s about the cycle of self-destruction,” Hahn explained to Mashable. “I find it refreshing to see this kind of point-of-view in contrast to today’s society that interacts digitally.

“The thing with life through devices, Internet and apps is that people are self-editing themselves. They are picking the best selfies and showing how cool they are, very one-sided. … When I read this script, it felt real and refreshing to show how ugly people can be, as they hide their inner beasts after cracking their facades.”

Mall will receive a North American theatrical release on Oct. 17, according to New Noise Magazine. The film will be distributed via Paragon Pictures. The movie stars Vincent D’Onofrio, Gina Gershon and Cameron Monaghan.

Hahn hosted an exclusive screening of the film, plus a question-and-answer session, during the 5th annual Nerd HQ event at Petco Park in San Diego. The video for the Q&A is below.

Image via Mashable

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VIDEO: Full Trailer for ‘Dear White People,’ Co-starring Actress Naomi Ko

by JAMES S. KIM

Dear White People has been garnering buzz ever since it sold out all of its screenings at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and with the release of the first full trailer, we can get a taste of what festival goers were raving about. Director Justin Simien’s satire, which is due in theaters on Oct. 17, follows four black students who attend Winchester University, a fictional, predominantly white school.

KoreAm earlier wrote about Korean American actress Naomi Ko, who makes her film debut in Dear White People as Sungmi, an art major with a lip ring who lives at a traditionally black residence hall, and hangs out with mostly African American students. Though Ko’s role is small, the film’s contemporary exploration of the nuances of racial identity on a college campus will no doubt resonate with Asian American audiences—as it did for the actress.

Dear White People really hit home, in the sense of what it’s like to be a minority in such a white world,” Ko told KoreAm last winter. “You may have a particular theme where somebody wants to touch one of the African American character’s hair. I feel like it’s very easy to switch that out and say, ‘Oh, where are you from?’ It’s a question that I’m asked many times, even though I was born in Minnesota.”

The plot follows activist Samantha White (Tessa Thompson), as she is unexpectedly elected the head of the black residence hall. When the college announces plans to diversify the hall, Samantha takes to the airwaves, using the campus radio show she hosts, called “Dear White People,” to protest the decision. She delivers biting PSAs such as, “Dear white people, please stop touching my hair. Does this look like a petting zoo to you?” and “Dating a black person to piss off your parents is a form of racism.”

The drama comes to a head when the college’s influential humor magazine hosts its annual Halloween party with a very ill-conceived theme: “Unleash your inner Negro,” which throws napalm onto an already unstable campus environment.

The film also stars Tyler James Williams, Brandon P. Bell, Dennis Haysbert and Teyonah Parris.

Film still by Ashley Beireis Nguyen

Sewol Documentary

Sewol Ferry Disaster To Be Made Into A Film

by JAMES S. KIM

A private committee in South Korea is raising funds for a documentary on the Sewol ferry disaster, according to Yonhap News. Director Im Jong-tae announced plans to release A Goose’s Dream on the first anniversary of the disaster, which would be April 16 next year.

The committee plans to raise 400 million won (approximately $393,000) through crowdfunding until Oct. 10. Around 300 million won will go towards production costs, and another 100 million won to advertising.

Im told the Korea Times that the two-hour film will delve into a variety of topics, from what actually happened during the sinking to the ongoing rescue efforts, as well as corruption in South Korean society as a whole. Im said film would also be a tribute to the victims.

The title of the documentary refers to a song performed by Lee Bo-mi, a student at Danwon High School who was one of the 293 people who died in the accident. She apparently had aspirations to become a singer. You can listen to a segment of Lee practicing the song below.

The Sewol sank off South Korea’s southwest coast on April 16 earlier this year, leaving 293 dead, many of them high school students who were on a field trip to Jeju Island. As of last Friday, 11 people remain missing as rescue efforts continue.

For more information on A Goose’s Dream, you can stay up-to-date with the film’s Facebook and Daum pages.

Image via Facebook

Wong Fu

YouTube Superpower Wong Fu Productions To Make A Movie

by JAMES S. KIM

For more than a decade, short-film-producing sensation Wong Fu Productions has made fans laugh and click “share,” raking in more than 2 million YouTube subscribers.

Now, they’re working on their biggest project yet.

Founders Wesley Chan, Ted Fu and Philip Wang announced their plans for their first feature film earlier this year, and after blasting past their initial goal of $200,000 on indiegogo, the principal cast was released last week.

“Our story takes place in a world where all relationship activity is documented and monitored by the Department of Emotional Integrity (DEI),” reads a description on the Wong Fu website. “Much like a credit score is given to represent financial responsibility, a relationship score is given to keep individuals accountable for the relationship activity and choices. The score is public for all to see, and affects various aspects of daily life.

In the film we follow two couples who are experiencing different challenges in their relationships. Seth and Haley are two high schoolers who are registering their relationship for the first time, and Ben and Sara, a former couple in their mid twenties who must meet again to settle an old report.

Through these two stories we are going to explore how love changes over time, and how to believe in your heart again after it’s been hurt.”

Aaron Yoo

Brittany Ishibashi

Brandon Soo Hoo

Victoria Park

Chris Riedell

Randall Park

Joanna Sotomura

Ki Hong Lee

Images via Wong Fu Productions

The Interview

North Korea Blasts Seth Rogen And James Franco’s ‘The Interview’

Hollywood rarely portrays North Korea in a positive light (see Red DawnOlympus Has Fallen and Die Another Day), but James Franco and Seth Rogen’s upcoming movie, The Interview, has touched a particularly sensitive nerve with the regime.

A spokesman for Kim Jong-un told the Telegraph that the comedy, starring Franco and Rogen, showed the “desperation” of American society in its “ironic storyline.” Two talk show hosts are tasked by the U.S. government to kill Kim, played by Randall Park, when they are granted an exclusive interview with the leader.

“A film about the assassination of a foreign leader mirrors what the U.S. has done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine,” said Kim Myong-chol, executive director of the Centre for North Korea-US Peace. Though he also said that the dictator would probably watch the film.

“In fact, President [Barack] Obama should be careful in case the U.S. military wants to kill him as well.”

In addition, Kim dismissed Hollywood films as being “full of assassinations and executions” and said British films are better and more realistic. Discounting Die Another Day, which was immediately described as “dirty and cursed” by state media, 007 still apparently remains a staple in North Korea.

“James Bond is a good character and those films are much more enjoyable,” he said.

Previews of The Interview have apparently attracted mixed reviews, and many have raised concerns the premise of the film.

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Why Does Every Blockbuster Have to Kill Off the Asian Guy?

He’s in Every Action Movie–But Not for Long: Meet the Expendable Asian Crewmember

From Godzilla to X-Men to Total Recall, why does every blockbuster need a single Asian guy to kill off?

by PAULA YOUNG LEE

Fans of the original Star Trek television series, which aired from 1966 to 1969, are familiar with the old trope of the expendable Asian crewmember. Every week, one or two unlucky marginal characters, wearing the red shirt of a Security Officer, would join a landing party that usually consisted of Captain James Kirk, First Officer Spock and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy from the starship USS Enterprise. The trio would beam down to the planet’s surface along with the Expendable Crewmember—who would promptly get killed off by a space monster/mysterious sentient cloud/primitive hostiles. The Expendable Crewmember became such a routine part of the storyline that it was spoofed on the animated television show Family Guy, and became a running joke in the 1999 film Galaxy Quest, in which Sam Rockwell’s character, “Crewman no. 6,” is a nervous wreck named Guy, so forgettable to everyone that even he knows he’s doomed to die.

As little kid, I found it a bit odd that the Klingons always missed Kirk and hit the guy in the red shirt standing next to him. And as I got older, I couldn’t help but notice two strange trends beginning to pop up in Hollywood summer blockbusters: 1) Random storylines would detour to someplace in Asia for no particularly good reason, and 2) One useless Asian character—only one—would show up and stick around just long enough to make a vague impression as a villain. Then he or she would die at the hands of the good (white) guys, who would then march off victoriously into the sunset.

Now, it has been pointed out to me that the business of killing off villains is an equal-opportunity plot device, and Asian people are not being singled out for horrible deaths. Which is true. It’s long been the case that Hollywood casts ethnic minorities as bad guys so their heads can be blasted off. In horror films, there is also the bimbo rule, which requires hot blondes to get killed off first. This is neither racist nor sexist (see no. 7 on this list, John Cho, hot blond), but the norm. The Expendable Asian Crewmember is different from the phenomenon known as the “Asian sidekick,” whose ranks include Cato in the Pink Panther film series from the ’60s and ’70s and remade in 2006; Kato in the Green Hornet television series from the ’60s, remade as a film in 2011; Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, 1984, remade and moved from California to China, 2010; and the mutant Yukio in The Wolverine, 2013. But the vast majority of blockbuster film franchises have no Asian characters in them at all. In general, both New York City and The Future are curiously free of Asians except for Maggie Q, whose time-traveling powers enable her to pop up briefly in Divergent, 2014. There are so few Asians in the galaxy inhabited by Star Wars that a hilarious blog, “You Offend Me You Offend My Family,” has scoured the entire franchise for signs of Asian life. The results were: one rebel officer, and a dubious claim that Admiral Ackbar, fearless cephalopod leader of the Rebellion, was “Asian-like.”

Which brings me to the 2013 Star Trek reboot, with Zoe Saldana as Lt. Uhura and John Cho as Lt. Sulu, plus loads of “Asian-like” aliens, including Vulcans. When the most diverse cast in a Hollywood summer blockbuster happens to be based on a television show that debuted a half century ago, it’s better to be the Expendable (Asian) Crewmember than not be allowed on board at all. But I’m hoping it won’t be another 50 years before Mr. Sulu not only takes the helm, but gets his own ship—and can star in his own film.

Here is a mere sampling of the Expendable Asian Crewmembers I’ve spotted over the years:

X-Men 2: X-Men United, 2003. Yuriko. The perfectly coiffed, impeccably manicured and silent assistant to evil mastermind Stryker, Yuriko turns out to be a super-villain called Lady Deathstrike whose abilities closely parallel those possessed by the Wolverine. Wolverine kills her by injecting her with the rare metal adamantium in its liquid form.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand, 2006. Kid Omega. As the Mutant Brotherhood organizes against humans, Kid Omega becomes one of Magneto’s new recruits. Played by Ken Leung, he can project spikes out all over his body in the manner of an angry porcupine. He dies in a blast of psychokinetic energy unleashed by the super-mutant, Jean Grey/Phoenix.

Mission Impossible III, 2006. Zhen Lei. Played by Maggie Q, this femme fatale joins the “Impossible Mission Force,” experiences a staged death, and disappears from the story. The fact that she is Chinese does not explain why the action relocates to Shanghai as opposed to, say, Southern California, which is also inhabited by white heroes plus a few Chinese people eating noodles.

Live Free or Die Hard2007. Mai Lin. Once again played by Maggie Q, Mai Lin is a cyber-terrorist with nefarious plans that vaguely involve computer hacking. Bruce Willis blames her for the awful script and throws her down an elevator shaft.

The Dark Knight2008. Lau. Played by Chin Han, Lau is a mob accountant who hides the mob’s money and flees to Hong Kong for the express purpose of getting Batman to Asia for an extended tourist commercial involving many tall, sleek skyscrapers. Batman brings Lau back to the U.S., where he is killed by the Joker.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 2009. Agent Zero. A mutant expert marksman, Agent Zero, played by ethnic Korean actor Daniel Henney, not only looks fine in a tailored black suit, he has better hair than Wolverine. After many tries, Wolverine finally succeeds in mussing his rival’s hair by downing his helicopter and blowing it up.

John Cho

Total Recall (remake), 2010. Bob McClane. Played by John Cho, better known as Lt. Sulu from the “Star Trek” reboot, Bob gets killed off when he stupidly asks secret agent Doug Quaid about his feelings. This taboo question prompts a police raid that results in everybody except Quaid getting shot.

Pacific Rim, 2013. My friend Minsoo Kang, who is an expert on the history of automatons, told me that not one but “two Chinese robot operators” show up and get crushed when monsters mash their robots. (They die at the same time and don’t have names, so I will count them as one.) Not only does this film have a female lead played by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, but it’s set in Hong Kong, which gets smashed by machine-monsters. This film didn’t do very well in the U.S. but did extremely well in Asia (e.g., China, Korea and Japan). As summed up by Forbes, Pacific Rim was “the rare English-language film in history to cross $400 million while barely crossing $100 million domestic.”

Red 2, 2013. Han Cho-Bai. He is an international assassin sent to kill retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses. Moses is played by Bruce Willis, so you know he doesn’t get killed off. Neither does Han Cho-Bai (played by Korean actor Lee Byung-Hun), because he’s a red herring who is really a disguised sidekick. Though I enjoyed the display of his martial arts skills, he’s got no business being in this film except to sell tickets. It made nearly twice as much in foreign receipts as it did in the U.S., and the bulk of those tickets were sold in Japan and South Korea.
 Could there be a theme developing here? Why, yes! And it leads directly to…

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Godzilla (remake), 2014. Dr. Serizawa. Played by the legendary Ken Watanabe, the Serizawa character appears in the 1954 version set in Japan, where he unexpectedly dies. Crucially, the original Godzilla hit U.S. theaters around the same time as the first wave of Asian immigrants, in the aftermath of WWII and the Korean War. Sixty years later, the newer, sexier version of the giant lizard suggests that Godzilla is a strong, charismatic, assimilated Asian-American who wants his own starring role in a summer blockbuster without so much goofy metrosexual makeup. And just as some of the funniest Internet memes focus on the giant lizard’s new Hollywood look, it’s not a done deal that Serizawa’s character gets killed off this time around, even if he is the only Asian character with a name, thus adhering to the one-Asian rule. I guess you could call that progress.

Paula Young Lee’s most recent books are Deer Hunting in Paris: A Memoir of God, Guns, and Game Meat and Game: A Global History, both published in 2013. This article originally appeared in Salon.