Minho: Perpetuating Asian Stereotypes in The Maze Runner

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The emergence of Asian Americans in the media industry is still a rare phenomenon. In The Maze Runner, aside from the protagonist Thomas, second most important male character is arguably Minho, who is played by a Korean American actor Ki Hong Lee. Even though Minho perpetuates Asian American stereotypes, there are moments where he deviates from typical Asian behaviour. No matter how hard he tries to blend into the Glade community, Minho’s Asian traits prevent him from complete integration as he is subconsciously reminded of the disparities between the two races. Such bias indicates that despite the inclusion of Asian Americans in the US media and their attempts to become hybrids, there is only a slight improvement in the portrayal of Asian Americans and the globalization of the Western culture.

Although The Maze Runner incorporates Minho into the film, Minho maintains the “forever foreigner symptom” and is unable to deviate the Asian American stereotypes. The concept of racial hierarchy is prevalent throughout the dystopian movie as there is a clear hegemonic social structure between Glade community and Minho. Minho is never properly introduced to Thomas himself, which implies an inferior position compared to the others in the social ladder. In addition, Asian Americans are perceived as introverted and reserved. Minho is blunt and terse; when he is asked a question, he simply replies with a single word. When he speaks up and voices his views, his opinion is immediately rejected by rest of the members. These examples illustrate that there is an intersectionality of class because Minho’s value within the hierarchy is not as significant as others; as a result, he resolves the problem by staying somewhat detached.

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Asian American’s detail-oriented personality and eccentric display of camaraderie are also presented in this science fiction film. Minho’s forever foreigner symptoms are further exemplified in these aspects. His intersectionality with cultural citizenship is inadequate and consequently, he is only able to integrate by providing unique talent. Minho is adroit at mapping out the maze solely by recalling his memory and he is respected for this adeptness.  Even though this is deemed an impressive skill, he is humble and does not flaunt his mastery. In addition to his intelligence, Minho is protective of others; he initially opposes Thomas from re-entering the maze, but eventually agrees join him because he does not tolerate Thomas venturing alone. This action highlights Minho’s nurturing side; unlike Americans who verbalize their emotions, Asian Americans express subtle gestures of kindness to indicate their loyalty for their peers. Both of these traits reinforce stereotypical Asian personalities, and they do not help advance Asian American characters to develop in the media industry.

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Minho shows Thomas his maze creation for the first time.

Minho has a lot of contradicting characteristics within him. At most times, he conforms to the stereotypical Asian role but at other times, he challenges them. He attempts to acquire cultural citizenship by conformity; he can play rough and retort snide and sarcastic remarks like the other boys. In fact, the first line he utters in the movie is “good job, you just killed yourself”, which elicits his annoyance at Thomas’ incompetence. As such, the movie muddles audience’s perception on Asian Americans. The film caters toward audience and includes Asian stereotypes, but there are instances where such stereotypes are defied. While Asian Americans are often portrayed as objects without agency most of the time, they sometimes are subjects with agency. Within the flexible hegemonic structure, Minho is able to exhibit his agency by demonstrating atypical Asian American behaviours. By playing the role of “keeper of the runners”, he validates that Asians can be leaders and eradicates the stereotype that all Asians are followers. Runners display a tremendous amount of agency compared to others, as they are chosen and have the privilege to leave Glade.

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The two runners (Minho and Thomas) escaping from the crumbling maze as Minho leads the way.

It is also important to observe Ki Hong Lee’s thoughts on Minho’s portrayal. In his interview with Kat Iniba, Lee revealed that he “tried [his] best to bring the alpha male, dominant, strong kind of characteristics to [Minho].” Hence, there is an intersectionality of gender even for the actor himself; the fact that Lee had to constantly remind himself to elicit such masculine features is already a gender bias. In short, Lee exerted heteronormativity in order to appease his audience.

While The Maze Runner is not a radical film that explicitly displays the subordinate group rejecting the oppressive force of the dominant group, it is a liberal movie because the hegemonic structure between two parties are still in place. Asian American actors face a tradeoff between promoting Asian qualities and wanting to explore outside of the Asian roles. In Lee’s interview with the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, he stated that Asian Americans need to persevere in order to “create our own content, our own stories and make opportunities for ourselves as actors”. Without a doubt, Asian Americans are industrious, but they are still regarded as “foreign” and have not completely assimilated into the Western culture.

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Works Cited

[1] The Maze Runner. Dir Wes Ball. 20th Century Fox. 2014. Film

[2] “#IAm Ki Hong Lee Story.” YouTube, uploaded by CAPE, 07 May 2015, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNmzm6gv4Vk

[3] “Ki Hong Lee – ‘The Maze Runner’ Interview.” Youtube, uploaded by Halo Halo with Kat Iniba, 18 Sept 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87vHv_cfdvs

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