User Reviews (11)

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  • This is a visually stunning documentary about the ideology used in China to acquire acquiescence from the lower class workers in the factories, restaurants, resorts, etc who are sold a dream of one day being able to join the elite classes if they work hard enough. Almost mesmerizing with its cinematography, akin to the dreams of consumerism and the narratives of wealth that are being sold to the underclass workers, the film nicely illustrates the Chinese economy of the present: the same old drudgery and toil simply with a bright and shiny demeanor. I very much enjoyed the first time director's attention to detail and storytelling style and I'm excited to see the films that follow.
  • "Ascension" (2021 release; 97 min.) is an American documentary about the pursuit of the Chinese dream. As the movie opens, we see how companies in China like Huawei and Foxconn aggressively recruit new factory workers with the promise of being able to sit while working, A/C in the dorms, and good food. We then find ourselves on the factory floor, where the workers are doing mind-numbing serial factory work... At this point we are less than 10 min into the movie.

    Couple of comments: this is the feature-length debut of longtime short documentarian Jessica Kingdon (she is also the movie's producer, writer, photographer and editor, truly a one-woman army!). Kingdon, a Chinese -American, comes up with absolutely amazing footage from dozens of sites in China. I can't help but wonder to what extent, if any, Kingdon had to get permission from local, state or national authorities to film all this. Much of the footage we get is simply the footage plus the electronic score (courtesy of Dan Deacon) but at times we get to listen in on discussions between the individuals (mostly employees) themselves. Check out the fascinating discussion between the butlers-in-training late in the film, where one comments that "Big Uncle Xi", a/k/a China's President (for life) has done "so much good:" while another opines that she likes the US "because I yearn for freedom". The financial and social inequality in China is staggering, as this film makes clear (Of course this is true in many other countries, including the US, but few of them are Communist-controlled.) Whether you like or don't like China, it is undeniably a rising power and a fascinating place. I had the good fortune of spending time in China for my work in the late 00s (the "good ol' days" of expanding trade between the US and China). If you even have a chance to visit China, don't hesitate! Bottom line: "Ascension" is a remarkable documentary about the pursuit of the Chinese dream (even if the pursuit of happiness doesn't seem all that urgent or pressing).

    "Ascension" premiered on the film festival circuit last summer to good critical buzz (there is a reason this movie is currently rated 95% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). It was picked up my MTV Documentaries and started streaming on Paramount + last Fall. I saw an ad for this the other day in the New York Times, and was intrigues. Glad I checked it out. Of course I encourage you to check it out yourself, and draw your own conclusion.
  • bentate14 February 2022
    One of the most shocking and poignant documentaries I've ever seen. The insanity that humans create by simply never being satisfied. A massive nation whose whole drive is to be more driven and successful even if it means sacrificing there life to get what they think they want. A truly astonishing film that I recommend everyone watch.
  • A visually hypnotic documentary that observes the relentless monotony of the enormous Chinese machine. You get a real sense of the plague of absolute capitalism that is driving that machine -- to what is already global domination and will eventually, decades from now, lead to a desperate collapse, similar to the one America is having right now.
  • A glimpse into a dystopian nightmare. It's also ironic how similar their situation is similar to that of America's, and sad that people cannot even comprehend it.
  • yst-9326913 February 2022
    1. For one who grow up and live in this country, this documentary gives me no new information than what I've known. It's kind of like a collection of contemporary topics in China. Maybe for foreigners, some parts of it are shocking.

    2. And this point 1, kind of a defect, goes directly to the numbness of people, including me. We've lived with so many ridiculous phenomena and how have we got so numb for all these matters?

    3. Everyone will become one of the dolls -- not a human, but a thing, a doll.

    4. The reason why I'm not giving it a higher score: the problem this film wants to talk about need more materials. It can become a 3 hours film or even longer.
  • lso-soares30 March 2022
    Documentary nominated for the Oscar 2022 directed by Jessica Kingdon, an American of Chinese origin.

    The film differs from many recent documentaries in that it doesn't have those interviews with people sitting there looking at the camera, nor does it have a narrator to drive the story. The director's camera only observes, sometimes from afar, sometimes up close, the daily lives of workers in the poignant Chinese economy.

    In the name of productivity, anything goes, especially the exploitation of workers. It is almost incomprehensible to me to see a recruitment of workers by major Chinese industries stating that the work can be done sitting down or that no health examination is required to enter. Others shout that the work is done 100% standing, demand maximum height of the worker, that workers will sleep in rooms with up to eight people in the same room, or hear that whoever decides if the duration the worker worked that day is their boss.

    Perhaps because of her origins, in the end, the director tries to glamorize the toughness she showed, putting on the screen moments of relaxation of hundreds of Chinese in a water park, as if she wanted to convey the message: "work without limits pays".

    As there are almost no lines, and when there are, they are dialogues between the workers, with long scenes, the documentary gets monotonous from the middle.

    Anyway, it was valid to know the reality of Chinese workers.
  • The film maker was able to gain access to many areas in China because they did not seem to have an overtly political point. We get to see lots of glimpses of Chinese life that would otherwise be heavily curated, either by pro-Chinese or anti-Chinese peopganda. Instead the film maker was able to seem completely neutral in only offering what basically amounts to stock footage of various jobs in China. It almost feels like an episode of "How It's Made".

    However, as intriguing as it is from the start, it gets boring extremely quickly. The film maker decided not to add any sort of narration, and that was a huge mistake. What you end up with is a disjointed collage of scenes with a, "Interpret your own meaning," conclusion. While I'm sure many people see tons of implied points and messages conveyed with this imagery, I don't find the uncertainty of it compelling at all and I found myself literally struggling to complete the film.

    I gave it a three because I enjoy stock footage, and I appreciate a new approach. However, after a while I wad very unmoved by what is essentially just watching people at work. There are the obvious implicit commentaries on social inequalities, but they're not any different than the same inequalities we could observe in any other capitalist society. Meanwhile, without narration, so much of the unique aspects of their culture is left vague an undefined. For example, they will use the term 'boss' over and over again in the film, without the viewer able to differentiate between the term being used to describe the amount of social influence a particular person may have--akin to the West's "influencers"--or if they are talking about a literal boss, i.e. Someone's employer. Without a narrator there to give the viewer this sort of context, most scenes more incoherent than simply abstract.

    It's an interesting concept but it really falls short in delivery. Perhaps if it had been 60 minutes instead of 90, but after a while the film maker's desire to leave the point unstated simply makes the film feel pointless.
  • Ascension - 2021 (Documentary) 2.5 out of 5 stars

    What does a rave at a water park, flyboarding, lipstick advertised by the military, a job you get to sit at, and life-sized "dolls" have to do with each other? That's what I'm left wondering after watching the Oscar-nominated documentary "Ascension."

    The plot synopsis reads, "The film follows the Chinese dream through the social classes, prioritizing productivity and innovation." that may sound a bit harsh, but I didn't dislike the film for what it's worth. It was a unique look at a world that I had never seen like this before. I had my eyes opened at just how different countries handle capitalism. China is still one of the largest industrialized nations in the world, and this dives into how that title is held.

    The most interesting aspect for me was the "How It's Made" style, many scenes simply just showing workers laboring away at their posts. Watching repetitive tasks being done for hours on end was pretty intense. I know that there are assembly-line jobs in the US, but this seemed different. I take for granted some of the things that I just think a machine makes. I'm sure some of the tasks could be automated, but why bother with that when you can pay slave wages to humans. My apologies if that was stern, but so many jobs like this are overlooked and considered "unimportant," that is, until someone is no longer willing to do them.

    Capitalism is a terrible thing when it's left unchecked; I don't think this was the entire purpose of this film, but it is one of the things that I took from it. There was an interesting subplot to the film that showed the ranking system in China, just how different two people's lives can be all because of their "social class." I don't pretend to fully understand their society, their prioritizing of industry, or how life works, but this was a look into that world that I hadn't seen before.

    Where to watch: Paramount +

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  • Warning: Spoilers
    The entire film lacks a voice, a story, or a theme. The message that this film trying to present is too hidden and conflicted by its material, and it results in so much confusion. Unless the audiences already made up their mind about China, this film is not doing much besides showing segments of Modern Chinese' life.

    At the beginning, the film wants to show the massive repetitive manufacturing in China, which seems that the Chinese are becoming mindless workers stuck in the pipeline. However, some shots are showing although workers are wearing the same uniform and protective gear, they wear fashionable shoes, listen to pop music, have small talk. The pipeline is only their work, they have a life outside of it.

    The film tries to show the huge gap between rich and poor, but again, it is confusing. They show footage of Chimelong Water Park, which is open to the public and the ticket price is RMB 200 (around $40 CAD) per adult, if consider the labour hourly rate in this film of 16 yuan ($3.2 CAD) per hour, it is not that expensive to go there and enjoy. So I'm so confusing, and this kind of confusion is spread out in the film.

    The only message clear shown in this film is how much Chinese life is getting close to westerns, they are not that "commie" anymore. They are happily and shamelessly embracing Capitalism.
  • More a series of vignettes than a coherent whole, this is a fascinating documentary neverthless.

    Focusing on the modern China and the multitudes of professions that dwell within, it takes a scalpel to the oft cited Chinese dream. A traverse thru the diverse Chinese working class landscape it attempts to show how the underclass is being groomed with the promise of a better tomorrow.

    There's arresting imagery and by the end the viewer gets a fair idea of how the class heirarchy works. This is laser focussed on the working class and the only brush with the elite is thru the tools embraced by the elite - the fancy restaurants or the cosmetic industry.

    One wonders though, how the director managed to pull this off.