Ascension review – sex dolls, super wealth and the Chinese dream

Via hand-painted sex dolls and Maga hats, Jessica Kingdon slyly tracks China’s shift from global factory to consumer society

In a street market in China, factory recruiters with loudspeakers compete for the attention of job seekers, yelling like they’re selling vegetables: “Seating working available!” “Air conditioning!” Others list restrictions: “No tattoos. No hair dye.” One advertises a salary: $2.99 (£2.21) an hour. Outside the market, inspirational slogans are plastered across billboards extolling the Chinese dream. “Work hard and all your dreams will come true.” When you’re paid $2.99, that’s a lot of hard work.

So begins this brilliant documentary by Chinese-American director Jessica Kingdon, which slyly observes China’s transition from the world’s factory to a massive consumer society. It’s a film in the tradition of Koyaanisqatsi or Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Our Daily Bread. Shot in more than 50 locations in China, it splits more or less into three sections: factory workers, China’s growing middle class and the filthy-rich elite. There’s no voiceover or obvious narrative, just a stream of vignettes – at times an almost surreal compilation of images strung together.

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