COMMENT: Netflix’s Bling Empire – A reality tv “Gilded Age”

Bling Empire is a slow-moving but fascinating look at the lives of some of Los Angeles’s most wealthy young people from Asian backgrounds. 

Like many reality shows of this genre, there is a false narrative that wealthy people do not work for a living, that being beautiful or handsome opens every door, that being rich makes a person shallow and foolish. 

Christine Chiu is the chic wife of Dr Gabriel Chiu 24th generation, a direct descendant of the Song Dynasty. She tells us that the rich Asian community in the city is small and exclusive and that everyone knows everyone.

However, for Christine and other characters in the show, that small world is not easy to navigate.

Kevin Kreider who is a male model of Korean descent, adopted by white parents, has made friends with Kane Lim, son of a billionaire who owns oil, shipping, and real estate companies in Southeast Asia. 

Kevin seems earnest and genuine, but you wonder what he really wants from Kane.

He’s introduced too to Jamie Xie, who’s father is a Silicon Valley billionaire, Kelly Mi Li, a self-made businesswoman stuck in a manipulative relationship with an ambitious actor Andrew Gray, and Kim Lee, a DJ who is the No.1 female act in Asia.

Despite their family backgrounds, they are all trying to win the favour of the legendary Anna Shay, part Japanese, part Russian daughter of a man who seems to be wealthier than everyone else put together.

Anna is an old school grand dame and has the graces of an older generation. With a sense of gravitas, she is old money, and loves being unique. 

When Christine deliberately buys an identical necklace to one that Anna has and hints that Anna needs to ask permission to wear her own jewellery, Anna decides to show her who’s in charge.

Kevin’s references to the film Crazy Rich Asians is full of negative stereotypes. While the film dealt with some serious issues around classism, this first episode of Bling Empire is a somewhat unflattering portrayal of the super-affluent Asian business class.

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