Early on, the documentary Ascension points its lens at a sign on that refers to the Chinese dream as opposed to an American one when it comes to capitalistic enterprises. Part Konyaaisqati, part Ron Popeil infomercial, Jessica Kingdon’s debut feature eschews any narration while allowing viewers to immerse themselves in an amusing, sometimes upsetting and often fascinating look at what this Asian powerhouse’s idea of commerce in the 21st century.
Shot at 51 locals, ranging from a plastic bottle recycling plant, to a Trump hat factory that bear “Keep America Great” logos, and, somewhat disturbingly, a sex doll workshop whose bodily features are customized for clients. There seems to be an upward curve to the kind of jobs shown on screen, from thankless, repetitive, and low-paying positions such as cleaning out the innards of ducks for dining or collecting street bicycles and placing them in a van. We see influencers selling their products on a livestream and, what I presume to be law enforcers, training to be real-life Dirty Harrys.
From there we see those in the hospitality industry who use rulers to align place settings just so. There is also a young lady in a hotel that can turn a white bedsheet into a pair of swans covered in red rose petals. We also visit a charm school where attendees practice their facial expressions. At another high-end eatery, a female tutor makes a remark about Downton Abbey to the staff and realizes no one gets the reference.
It seems at times when it comes to lower paying jobs that don’t require much training, those in charge have no problem demeaning the staff. The higher-ups also seem to question the salaries they are supposed to get. But these peons do get room and board along with as meals – something that rarely happens in the USA. Warning: Ascension ends at a giant water park with swarms of swimmers that will make anyone who fears catching COVID-19 get the heebie-jeebies just looking at the non-distanting participants.