Bling Empire Offers a Refreshing Look at Asian American Cultures — Once You Get Past the Bling
The Netflix reality series features meaningful stories about the Asian American community that we haven't before seen play out on reality TV
While scrolling through Netflix in search of the next reality show to help me escape the horror and banality of quarantine living, I happened upon Bling Empire. I cringed at the thought of yet another series showcasing the life of the outrageously rich. Now? During a pandemic? But I couldn't resist the all-Asian American cast.
Admittedly, the cast is also what made me pause before pressing play. It's hard to describe the feeling I get when I see an Asian person on reality television. I get intrigued, but then I start to feel uneasy. There's only a small niche Asians tend to fill onscreen — we're either rich, foreign, nerdy, kicking ass or mute — and Bling Empire obviously checks the "rich" box. I dread the suffocating boxes we're put into, but also yearn to see more Asian-American representation on screen.
To say that there aren't multifaceted stories out there about the Asian-American experience would be wrong because they do exist. But to see another one about wealthy Asians seems tired, especially when most Asians cannot relate.
However, after devouring the entire series in a weekend, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of so many of the storylines. I laughed, I cried, I texted my closest friends to see if they had watched, then I watched the season once more.
Once you get past the caviar, black cards, Beverly Hills estates and trust funds, Bling Empire reveals a refreshing look at Asian Americans and the different cultures, upbringings and issues they face as they navigate life in Los Angeles. Yes, they are absurdly rich, but they also offer meaningful stories about the Asian American community that we haven't before seen play out on reality TV.
We meet billionaire Kane Lim, who tries to figure out his next step in life as the eldest son — the one who traditionally bears the most responsibility in an Asian family. Lim distracts himself by dedicating his time to his friendships with Chèrie Chan, who is dealing with the loss of her mom, and Kim Lee, who tries to discover where her estranged biological father resides and if he is willing to meet her.
Kelly Mi Li and Andrew Gray share their relationship struggles while Kevin Kreider, a South Korean adoptee, tries to learn about his birth parents. We also get to see elements of religion, personality and gender roles unravel in unexpected ways.
Lim, who practices Buddhism, scolds often-shirtless model Kreider for praying in his underwear. Chan discusses reincarnation and the possibility that her newborn son Jevon could actually be her mother. (Is Jevon Po Po?) Fan-favorite Anna Shay spars with Christine Chiu throughout the season and proves that reality star respect can be earned by how clever one can be with their brand of shade: It's not always about who can out-yell the other.
We learn that after a decade of trying, Chiu and her husband, Dr. Gabriel, finally welcomed Baby G. It's miraculous news for the couple, but also a huge relief for Christine, who finally gave her in-laws the grandson they'd been expecting. I could feel the anxiety radiating through the screen as Chiu opened up about not wanting to have more children.
For our parents' generation, the pressure to deliver a son was all too real. Covering up for a husband and his shortcomings is also a heavy burden many Asian women have taken on for generations. Watching Chiu fight to balance what she wants and what her family expects of her, and watching Chan fearlessly take her relationship by the reigns with boyfriend Jessey Lee — with whom she shares two children — by planning a surprise proposal, was so gratifying. We get to see both experiences: one star struggle to keep with tradition and the other throw all rules away.
Getting to see the type of wealth very few people in life ever experience is, no doubt, captivating television. But the series also shows that we don't need to see more Asian-American shows and movies marketed solely based on how rich the cast is — and we don't have to be pigeonholed into themes that stereotype us and don't represent who we truly are as a community.
The "Bling" in Bling Empire might have drawn everyone in, but it's the riveting and unique stories that kept us watching. Shay said it best when she told Kreider, "I don't get impressed by things, but people and who they are."
Bling Empire is now streaming on Netflix.