Asian actors and performers have always lamented their lack of representation in the global entertainment industry. There are only so many acting gigs for the next Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan (or *roll eyes* the Asian sidekick). Between ‘The Joy Luck Club’ and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, millions of moviegoers would be at pains to think of the last hit movie they’ve seen with an all-star Asian cast.
Then ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ came along and suddenly it’s not just about martial arts and heavy drama. We can do glitz and glamour, too. And as a bonus, two Filipinos – Kris Aquino and Nico Santos – scored some airtime.
Enter ‘Bling Empire’, an all-Asian reality TV show that was released on Netflix early this year. It follows the lives and loves of seriously wealthy Asians, plus ‘everyman’ Kevin, in Los Angeles. It took the ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ concept to the small screen and amped it up. The cast includes a self-made female entrepreneur, the fashionista daughter of a tech billionaire, a CEO-in-waiting, a socialite, a Kardashian look-alike and a reclusive heiress. What more could you want?
Critics might say it’s contrived, following the tried-and-tested formula of reality TV shows. But that is the genre. Don’t sit down to watch ‘Bling Empire’ and expect ‘Schindler’s list’. It’s popcorn entertainment through and through and that’s part of its commercial appeal.
Some would argue it’s manipulated and staged. Of course, it is. One half of the term ‘reality show’ is, well, ‘show’.
Having seen the entire season’s eight episodes, here are the top five reasons to set your cynical glasses aside and watch ‘Bling Empire’ if you’re Filipino.
- Among the show’s executive producers is Filipino-American Brandon Panaligan, whose Filipino dad hails from Pampanga, Philippines.
Enough said. Let’s support our kababayans who are trying to make it big in Hollywood. The odds are stacked against them so badly that anyone who manages to crack the market needs our wholehearted well-wishes and support.
- Jamie Xie is awesome.
Jamie Xie doesn’t really get much screen time in the debut season but she’s a total star. I can't wait to see more of her storyline in the next season.
- Main characters talk about spirituality and reincarnation like it’s a normal thing.
Many reality TV shows centre on bad behaviour, binge drinking and bitchiness. Bling Empire is the first time I’ve seen actors talk about dealing with a family member’s death, adoptive parents, the idea of reincarnation and Buddhism. There's a haunted house and a scene about not stepping on ants. Superb.
- Oh yeah, Anna Shay.
She reportedly shut down the Palace of Versailles just so she and her friends can hang out there in private. And, if her behaviour in front of the camera is genuine, someone with a heart of gold. Anna adds serious bling to this empire.
- The one about the abs.
There’s a lot of irreverence and gratuitous display of abs in this show, thanks to actor and model Kevin Kreider. He got the gig after one of the show’s co-creators watched his online videos on Asian masculinity and life as an Asian model. The show’s producers got two for the price of one – Kevin and his abs.
I don't doubt that everyone plays it up for the camera but Bling Empire is more than a Crazy Rich Asians spinoff. There’s more to love as you learn about each of the cast member’s lives.
By the way, did I mention that one of the executive producers of this runaway success is Filipino?
* Photo from Brandon Panaligan's Instagram.