The new Netflix show Bling Empire is being touted as a real-life Crazy Rich Asians, and that's definitely one piece of the show, but when you watch more episodes (there are eight total), you'll see there's much more to it than meets the eye. There are plenty of gorgeously coordinated parties but Bling Empire also turns out to be an exploration of identity for a few of the main cast members.
The show may look like a Bravo castoff or a companion to Selling Sunset, Netflix's vapid and claws-out series about blonde realtors in L.A., but you'll soon find more under the layers of its Asian cast at lavish parties, going on spending sprees, and draped in designer clothes and shoes. Bling Empire uses the grotesque opulence to hook viewers, but in a refreshing twist, that's not all there is.
The series puts handsome model/actor Kevin Kreider at the center, and as he's new-ish to Los Angeles, he's quickly befriended by a group of very sparkly, affluent friends. His main buddy is Kane Lim, the son of a Singapore billionaire, who works for his father's business. Kane is Kevin's social navigator and introduces him to Kim Lee, who is a famous DJ in East Asia and is super close to her mother and stepfather. Kim wants to find her biological father and a couple of the later episodes devote time to finding him, with Kevin and Kane lending their help to the matter.
In the role of "Most Likely To Land on a Bravo Real Housewives Show" is Christine Chiu, the wife of a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon and the mother to one-year-old "Baby G," as the baby is referred to. Chiu is a couture fashion hunter-gatherer who tries so hard to be the queen bee of the social group, but alas, she's not quite up to the task.
Beautiful and sweet Kelly Mi Li is part of the group but her storyline seems to be mostly as a potential romantic partner for Kevin, but sadly, she's still hung up on her on-again, off-again temperamental boyfriend Andrew Gray, whose biggest credit is that he once portrayed a Power Ranger. Insert chef's kiss gif here.
Fashionista and influencer Jaime Xie is the daughter of another insanely rich parent, and while she's good at spending her family's fortune on couture, she also makes a lot of money in her own right. You might be inclined to shrug her off, but when she talks about making $40,000-$60,000 for an Instagram post, you start to take her more seriously.
The most compelling character of the show comes out of left field. Unlike the other cast members, Anna Shay is at least 60 years old if she's a day. A Beverly Hills socialite who plays the queen bee role very well, Shay is the daughter of the late billionaire entrepreneur Edward Shay and his Japanese-American wife Ai-San. Her father founded Pacific Architects and Engineers (PAE), a contractor of defense services that specialized, at least partially, in top-secret work for the United Nations and U.S. government. In 2006, Anna and her younger brother Allen sold PAE to Lockheed Martin in an all-cash, $1.2 billion deal. She lives a life many of us dream of: flying to Paris on a private jet on a whim, dropping loads of dough on clothes, jewelry, and other trinkets wherever she may be in the world, and throwing parties at her mansion where the group convenes to talk about each other and gossip about Anna's private life. The really wonderful thing about Anna is how little she cares about impressing anyone and how skilled she is at reading people and knowing their motives. Pay extra close attention to when Anna and Christine interact. No spoilers here but it's so worth the watch just for those scenes.
Happily, Bling Empire turns out to be more than a Bravo wannabe. Here's hoping Netflix orders more episodes because these stories of making your way in a new city, and one as socially and culturally confusing as Los Angeles, and finding friends you can bond with, are universal and deserve to be told.
TV Guide rating: 4/5
Bling Empire premieres Friday, Jan. 15 on Netflix.