Ascension (2021) Review

Ascension is a good idea but you need to buy into what you are watching. There is no “hand-holding” here and it becomes fairly clear, fairly quickly, that you will witness events as a fly-on-the-wall rather than as a narrative or with talking head interviews giving any context.

It is framed well though and what you are watching is the many facets of working life in modern China. It begins with the industrial, factory line side of China, with representatives from the biggest Chinese employers urging people to join their company but outlining restrictions, like no tattoos, that would be against discrimination laws in many Western countries. It then takes in the bizarre sex-doll industry, management seminars and meals and even training involving violence or positivity lessons.

Aspects of this are fascinating. It seemingly covers all areas of the “Chinese Dream” from those working long hours in mundane jobs through to those who live luxurious lifestyles and seemingly long for the rich trappings of Western culture. If the movie is intended to highlight anything, it is the grand divide between those that live the poorer lives, which make up the majority, and the 1% (although in China that is still a huge amount) that live the richer lifestyle.

This gives us great variety in what we are seeing. There is comedy, shocking moments and bizarre aspects which will keep you entertained as the focus shifts. Arguably though, the focus doesn’t shift with enough pace. It highlights one area of employment or aspects around the lives of the population but hovers too long and its easy to find your attention drift as you watch the same routine over and over. Without any narrative or even people to attach to, its difficult to feel engaged and the movie can be as passive as experience as you’ll ever have.

It also feels too long, even at 90 minutes. There is a point that film-maker Jessica Kingdon is making but its fairly easy to see what that is and its done very quickly. There is plaudits to be had for being this involved, in-depth and detailed with her coverage and access but unfortunately, at times, you may actually find yourself bored.

Overall, Ascension will be an impressive, immersive and engaging watch for some or a boring, mundane and difficult watch for others. Regardless of where you fall in that spectrum, there are moments of the movie that will engage, pique interest, amuse and shock. There is a great message to be made with Ascension but at 90 minutes, it takes too long to make it.

Rating – 2

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

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