“Comfort”: An Independent, Asian-American Masterpiece @ The Loft

UCSD alumna Julie Zhen in "Comfort." Photo Courtesy of Late to the Party Productions.

The term “independent” can be misleading in the context of the arts, as it may imply a degree of quality that is not on par with more mainstream productions. However, in the case of visual productions like film, “independent” can indicate a certain degree of freedom that is absent among mainstream productions, as directors and cast members have more say in the creative process. “Comfort,” directed and written by William Liu, is such an example. The film includes Christopher Dinh as the male lead and UC San Diego alumna Julie Zhan as the female lead. It was showcased at UCSD’s The Loft on May 3, 2017, a far cry from notable showcasing locations like the Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. However, the film’s location and status as an “independent production” did not detract from its overall quality.

The film begins with a cooking scene and shows Cameron’s (Dinh) daily life. Cameron works as a nighttime courier for businesses like pawn shops and a hot sauce company, but aspires to become a cook. One night, he picks up one of his clients’ daughters, Jasmine (Zhan). Dinh begins to form a connection with her and takes her out to some of his favorite places throughout the city. Their connection is based upon both of them dealing with personal health struggles and family dilemmas. Throughout the film, they attempt to navigate through obstacles and heal wounds that have never truly healed.

“Comfort” is very reminiscent of productions by Michael Mann, who is also the director of films “Heat” and “Collateral.” The plot of these films run over short time periods and mostly take place at night. “Comfort,” devoid of violence and sociopathic tendencies seen in “Heat” and Collateral”, assumes a light-hearted tone with two people trying to better each other.

The character development for both leads is noteworthy, as the audience feels an intense connection to both characters and grows sympathetic towards both characters’ struggles: Cameron’s work and health problems and Jasmine’s lack of direction in life. Dinh expertly conveys the mannerisms and character habits of Cameron, who is someone willing to make the most out of his current situation while retaining a friendly demeanor and personal ambition. The same can be said for Zhan, who portrays a character who is both energetic and supportive, yet confused and stubborn. Zhan’s character fuses many different personality traits, but she manages to depict them all.

Although their individual performances are worthy of praise, Dinh and Zhan together propel the movie forward. Though the characters are very different, they complement each other in the best ways possible. Both leads depict progression naturally, something not often found in films. Although both lead actors explained certain awkward moments on set during the subsequent Q&A session, it was not apparent to the audience.

The cinematographer does a superb job in capturing the nightlife of Los Angeles, which I believe only a few other contemporary films have done (i.e. “Nightcrawler” and “Collateral”). The quality of the cinematography is even more surprising given the film’s status as an “independent production,” as it is comparable to that of a grandiose production. Since the night is mostly devoid of people with day jobs, it allows the characters and the rest of the crew to explore their respective parts in ways that cannot be found in daylight. “Comfort” reminds us that in cities like LA, life is just as vibrant during the night as it is in the day. People are just as eager to enjoy the amenities of life during the evening, as shown when Zhan’s character tries to purchase an item in a pawn shop. However, the streetlights of nighttime Los Angeles depict claustrophobic circumstances, where night workers are more pressured to conduct business than daytime workers and the audience even feels a sense of anxiety when the sun rises.

All in all, “Comfort” not only excels in its acting, storyline, and cinematography, but also serves as a symbol of Asian American representation in film. “Comfort” enters the seemingly elusive world of film: a world where many mainstream productions are primarily run by white Americans. Aspiring Asian American entertainers consistently try to shatter the “model minority” myth, in which Asians are perceived solely as academically oriented and only fit for certain professions. “Comfort” is one step closer towards contradicting this myth and creating a path in the arts for Asian Americans to follow.