While Bling Empire offers yet another dose of reality television underneath the premise of real Crazy, Rich Asians, what makes the series endearing for local audiences are its hidden gems of relatable truths regarding Asian culture.
While the excessive brand mention of the most flashy luxury houses can feel tiring at a certain point, Bling Empire mirrors the Asian zeitgeist endearingly, be it in subtle or blatant ways. Whether pulled by Kevin’s chiseled body or the extravagant imageries of this hit Netflix television series, a closer and more in-depth look can extend the shallow entertainment factor to understanding the more profound eccentricities of Asian culture—the good, the bad, and the excruciatingly real. Sure, you can accuse the show of being a Keeping Up With the Kardashians rip-off (though I’d say it feels more similar to the Real Housewives series). However, the hook of this show is its uncanny relevance, that within several minutes of viewing you are pulled further by a genuine interest in the characters’ conflicts and the reflective social commentaries.
DISCLAIMER: Spoilers ahead!
1. Arguably, It’s Everyone’s Business
The amount of meddling in other people’s business in this series is hilarious and incredibly, as Asian as it gets. Sometimes, it does feel very producer-induced. But in intimate moments of vulnerability, we see how families (both nuclear and extended) tend to overdo empathy, crossing personal boundaries and causing emotional distress. We see Christine’s struggles with Dr. Chiu’s family (stemming from her almost obsessive need to please his family), Anna’s constant intrusion of people’s lives (even if her heart’s in the right place), and Kane’s unsolicited Asian values education on the unknowing Kevin. It is a common truth in the Asian narrative. And as we witness and cringe over these brief moments, we can’t help but feel the similarity of our experiences.
2. Attempts To Break Free Of Traditions
One of the more touching parts of Bling Empire is how it puts the spotlight on backward Asian traditions, often criticized and parodied by mainstream media. Not only does this make viewers root for the characters, but this also makes them sympathize with their unfortunate situations. Cherie, by far, has the most barriers broken. While the show introduced her as a filter-crazy mom with questionable child-naming skills, her admirable courage in the face of imposing marriage traditions and her incredible gesture of love in the series finale draws you to her even more. It almost wants to make you sympathize with the less endearing Christine and tell her that she too can break her self-made shackles and step into the new age.
3. The Need To Be Validated By Our Biological Roots
While it does give both Kim (who could portray Kylie Jenner in a biopic) and Kevin a bit of spotlight as they search for their biological parents, one does seem to question Kim’s statement of how incomplete she feels after learning of his father’s death. She does have a very privileged life, after all, with enviably supportive parents (which is quite rare in the real world). On the other hand, though, it was heartwarming to listen to both their parents offer their unconditional support in their searches. Also noteworthy are Christine and Kane’s stories about their fathers and their struggles in appeasing expectations.
4. Ancestors…Hear My Plea…
On many occasions, the search for answers ends with our characters’ yearning for a sense of spirituality. In some instances, an active attempt to connect with the divine or the supernatural. A shaman, a ghost whisperer, a fortune teller, and, of course, images of Buddha have emerged in the series, offering insight and guidance to this curious set of believers. While some are rather amusing (Jaime telling a shaman of her problems choosing between a mist-colored bag or a nude-colored option), others provide a sense of closure (Keving going to a hypnotist). Then again, shopping continues to be the panacea to every problem in this series.
5. The Importance Of Being Empress
Of course, the Asian-ness of this series is more ingrained in the Anna Shay versus Christine narrative. While both women have polarizing qualities—Anna and her meddling ways, Christine and her evil schemes (though we still are on Anna’s team on this), you can’t help but take their sides too on their most vulnerable moments. Christine’s control of her body is just as impressionable as Anna’s much-deserved respect from the other characters. Both brought up to be the best they can be, taking the crown of Beverly Hill’s imaginary kingdom has become the core premise of the show. And how the others revolve around this teetering narrative will probably be the raison d’etre of this show. Can it keep us glued, though? We wait and find out.
At the end of the day, whether you get disappointed by the pettiness of their fights and the shallowness of their so-called problems, reality television once again succeeds in taking the time of viewers away from their less Gucci-ed lives. And while the key takeaway of these shows are always how “strangely similar” theirs and our lives are, one can’t help but see the obvious—as Kevin exemplifies, in a very materialistic and social media-driven world, having rich friends can be everything and nothing.
BLING EMPIRE is now streaming on Netflix.
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