Bling Empire review: The latest Netflix series reminds us of 2000s reality shows in the best possible way
In a rich man's world
It wasn't too long ago when even the mere thought of describing Chinese New Year as a subdued affair felt, well, inconceivable. And yet, we suspect that's precisely what 2021's festivities will entail, considering the numerous restrictions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. Unprecedented times, indeed —but no matter. While your gatherings will have to be kept small and intimate, it doesn't mean you'll have to skimp on the familial drama. Here to stir the pot this year? Netflix's latest reality-TV entrant, Bling Empire.
Dubbed the real-life rendition of 2018's hit-movie, Crazy Rich Asians, it follows the lives of super wealthy Asians and Asian-Americans in Los Angeles. Its main players comprise Kane Lim, a Singaporean oil and shipping heir; Christine Chiu, who married into, uh, a loaded family with a "dynastic" lineage; Anna, an eccentric billionaire; and Kevin, a Korean model thrown head-first into this ridiculously opulent arena. You can also expect to see familiar faces crop up in the form of model-turned-DJ Kim Lim, hair luminary Guy Tang, and style pundit Jaime Xie.
It's a diverse bunch as any; an ensemble varying in age, religious beliefs, and ambitions. That, in itself, is what sets apart Bling Empire from 2019's Singapore Social, with the exploration of individuals in differing stages of their lives making for much more fascinating TV. Think episode after episode of Christine's fertility issues interspersed with scandalous discoveries involving a penis pump; a delectable cocktail of pregnancy woes, career slights, and extravagant spending in the form of USD$30,000 worth of fish maw.
And that's not all — heck, there is a lot more to the series beyond its pitch-perfect casting. Unlike Singapore Social which failed to lean into its campy, over-wrought storylines, Bling Empire fully acknowledges and plays into trite reality-TV tropes. Christine and Anna's power struggle over top-dog status is laden with so much delicious tension and underhanded jabs that I half-expected it to devolve into a full-on brawl at some point. Alas, a throwdown between the upper-class is not so much ripping-each-other's-hair-out than it is shifting someone's assigned seat to the uncool table. Still, it's all good fun.
Fans of Jersey Shore and The Hills will also be pleased to know that while Bling Empire does address the traditionalist culture that embodies most Asian families, there is a fair share of wild moments too. Sex is thrown casually into conversation; Kevin rips off his shirt at any given occasion to flex 'em abs; and there's a lot of drink-throwing and dry cleaning bills involved.
While the conflicts are pretty much run-of-the-mill fare, there is an added comedic factor thanks to how out-of-touch some of the cast members are. A personal favourite of mine: Cherie's proclamation that she can't wait to put her newborn, Jevon, into "Hermès bags and stuff" for photos. How relatable. Yes, that, too, is bound to be my first thought after pushing an actual human being out of my punani. Millionaires, they're just like us!
The exception — and delight of the show — is undoubtedly, Kevin, the audience stand-in who regularly gawks at the absurd life choices his friends make. If this was a movie, he would be the lead unwittingly caught up in a riptide of riches and lavishness that warps him into someone unrecognisable. Lucky for us, this is reality-TV, and he remains one of the most relatable (and likable) characters to root for throughout its eight-episode run. Might we suggest a spin-off on him should Bling Empire not get picked up for season 2? Purely so he can bless the world with more visuals of his abs, of course.
All in all: Bling Empire is precisely what you need to spice up any lacklustre CNY festivities. Just be sure to hit the pause button when Po Po wanders into the room — somehow, we'd doubt she like to know what a penis pump does.