If there was a recipe for a successful reality-TV series, Netflix’s Bling Empire might be the result. Its raw ingredients are meme-ready hits in the vein of Selling Sunset, stirred up with cross-cultural sensations à la Indian Matchmaker. Add a dash of beauty, a pinch of fame, and a dollop of outrageous wealth, and voilà, you have Bling Empire: a show about wealthy Asian and Asian American people living in L.A.
By wealthy, I mean one cast member is renting one of those Selling Sunset home for $19,000 a month. Wealthy to the tune of Rolex watches as party favors and renting out Rodeo Drive for a Lunar New Year party. It’s a world that was fictionalized in Crazy Rich Asians — but it’s actually lived in by team Bling Empire.
Let me introduce them: There is the peacemaker, Kane, a Singaporean shipping heir, and his himbo best-friend, Kevin, a Korean model raised in middle-class Philadelphia. Kevin serves as an affable stand-in for the audience, shuddering at his friends’ casual purchases of, say, $30,000 worth of shark fin for soup.
Kevin’s other purpose, besides flashing his beautiful abs at every opportunity, is to pursue Kelly, an entrepreneur who is purportedly the only self-made rich person in the group. Kelly’s boyfriend is the show’s chief villain, but where Selling Sunset had Christine’s campy nastiness, Bling Empire gives us Andrew: a genuine piece of shit in the form of an emotionally abusive out-of-work actor.
Meanwhile, Selling Sunset’s Christine-Chrishell rivalry is played out by a more interesting pair: Christine Chiu, a haute-couture-collecting housewife who needlessly pits herself against Anna Shay, an eccentric billionaire in the image of Jocelyn Wildenstein.
Whose side to take? Christine is tough to support, at first; her efforts to prove herself Anna’s equal are grating and occasionally hysterical, and it’s not until a storyline around her fertility struggle starts to unfold that we begin to sympathize with her. Still, she’ll describe being castigated by her in-laws’ for not being pregnant, and, in the same breath, emphasize their dynastic lineage. (Christine, I should note, is also a producer on Bling Empire.)
And then there’s Anna, who seems to be part of a reclusive one percent that we rarely see on television. The daughter of late billionaire industrialist Edward Shay and his Japanese-American wife, she last appeared in the news for buying a horrifying Tim Burton–themed California mansion, decorated thus by Dr. Phil’s son.
Anna is fascinating to watch: She wears jeans and diamonds, her hair a dirty blonde tangle and her makeup smudgy. She speaks very little and when she does it’s in a whisper, and usually to impart a bit of clear-eyed wisdom—things like “Don’t let the clothes wear you,” and “You only have one life, this isn’t dress rehearsal.”
There are others: Jamie, a fashion influencer who recently lost out on a barn to Eve Jobs, and Kim Lee, a model-turned-DJ who is shunned from the friend group over a faux-pas involving a penis pump. Get them all in a room together, add alcohol, diamonds, and a bit of Asian traditionalism, and there you have it: 2021’s first bingeable reality hit.