I Watched Bling Empire and Teared Up—Here’s Why
The setting: wild shopping sprees, outrageous parties… and wait, was that a Gucci claw machine at a one-year-old’s birthday party?
It’s easy to write off Bling Empire as an over-the-top, crass reality show. Let’s be real: there were cringe-worthy moments such as when Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr Gabriel Chiu’s wife, Christine, spoke about sponsoring orphans in China as door gifts for guests at her Lunar New Year party held on Rodeo Drive—yes, that famed street in Los Angeles which she rented for a night in the first episode of the Netflix reality show.
So when I started watching with these expectations, the one thing I did not expect to happen was to sympathise with any of them, let alone get teary-eyed.
I wasn’t the only one who was moved by the show either. A friend’s text had come in: Two episodes in and I cried! I need to DM Cherie on Instagram.
She was referring to Cherie Chan, a heavily-pregnant heiress to a denim empire who had recently lost her mother, and she was having difficulties finding closure in that loss.
The themes of parental-child relationships and loss are at the centre of many of the cast members' storylines, including model and international DJ Kim Lee who finally decides to look for her biological father only to realise that he had passed on before they could even reconnect. Model and fitness coach Kevin Kreider had also attempted to seek the same reconnection for himself. He was adopted into a Caucasian family in Philadelphia when he was a toddler and now wants to seek his birth parents in South Korea.
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Episode six shows Kreider visiting a hypnotherapist in the hopes of recalling any information that would reconnect him to his birth mother. As he begins accessing his subconscious, Kreider recalls memories as a frightened three-year-old on a plane with someone he didn’t know, and not knowing where he was going. He's asked to comfort his younger self.
Then he is taken back to a few days before he was born, and was asked to recognise his mother’s feelings while being in her womb. “She’s scared too.” The hypnotherapist asks: “How does she feel towards the baby?”
He delivers the height of this emotional scene: “I don’t think she wants it.”
Watching a grown man coming to terms that mother did not want him was... heartbreaking. How could I not tear up? It was a vulnerable and cathartic moment to witness.
(Related: Bling Empire’s Kane Lim: Get to Know the Singaporean Star of the Netflix Series)
Bling Empire reminds us of the issues that can’t be solved just by throwing money at it: There is entrepreneur Kelly Mi Li, who is stuck in an abusive relationship with Andrew 'Red Power Ranger' Gray (whom the Internet is calling a dead ringer for Penn Badgley’s role in another Netflix series, You) and Christine Chiu who has in-laws that had blamed her for taking a decade to conceive a child due to fertility issues—which we later found out wasn't exactly the real problem.
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It was a nice underlying message that as the 0.1 per cent (Kevin, who plays the not-so-rich friend as a foil to everyone else) and 0.0001 per cent (the rest of the cast) live their private jet lives, they also deal with relatable issues of loss and love.
Perhaps, billionaire heiress Anna Shay truly resonated with her Netflix audience when she whispered: “I don’t get impressed by things, but people and who they are.”