Bling Empire's cast is united above everything else by its riches. The Netflix series follows the lives of a small group of affluent East Asian men and women living in LA. When I say affluent, I don’t mean upper-middle class but rather the kind of exorbitant wealth that has made critics compare the show's cast to Crazy Rich Asians (Korean adoptee Kevin Kreider, who is accepted as part of the circle despite his more humble origins, is an exception).
As rich as they might be, if the crop of reality shows about the lives of the one percenters can teach us anything, it’s that a healthy bank balance doesn’t necessarily translate to healthy relationships. In Bling Empire, a pathology that rears its head throughout is the pursuit of one-sided attachments.
From group gossip and real estate developer Kane Lim’s obsession with making billionaire heiress Dorothy acknowledge his existence to Christine Chiu’s sycophantic behaviour around Anna Shay, season two continues a theme established in season one: people who have everything being consumed by the desire to be wanted.
In case you needed reminding, Bling Empire is reality TV, not a romcom. So the games of cat-and-mouse played by the 'friends' of its glitzy universe don’t end well. For example, Kim Lee insists that love interest Kevin jumps through hoop after hoop in the hope of securing a relationship with her. The result is not love but mutual frustration.
There’s a valuable lesson here for anyone who has ever been sucked in by hetero dating advice to 'play hard to get'. While there are many unrealistic things about Bling Empire, Kevin’s unhappiness about being strung along is not one of them.
Kim justifies her behaviour by saying that a previous relationship heavily impacted her ability to trust. But there seems to be more going on. In a cringe-inducing scene, Kim stands up Kevin on what was meant to be their first date. That doesn’t signal merely a reluctance to trust but an underlying lack of respect. Could this be because Kevin — who grew up middle class in Philadelphia — is less wealthy than the other members of the group? After all, one of the points of tension in the show from the get-go is the class differential between Kevin and the other rich Asians in his circle. In 2021, he revealed in an interview with CNBC that his stint on the show meant that he could be making six figures for the first time: something he views as an achievement but is considered the 'baseline' in LA. Kevin can’t keep his awe at his castmates' lavish lifestyles to himself, marvelling at the money his friends casually drop on soup ingredients at a specialty Asian store stocking shark fins and other pricy items, for instance. So it’s not exactly a secret that he’s from a different socioeconomic class from other members of the Bling Empire universe.
Whatever the reason for Kim’s hot-and-cold behaviour, it’s not cool. But why does Kevin, a hunky model, put up with it? Wendy Middlehurst is a counsellor who self-published the self-help book How to Stop Dating Dickheads. Although her book is focused on heterosexual women who can’t stop getting into one-sided relationships with men who don’t love them back, her therapeutic insights are relevant to Kim and Kevin’s situation.
Wendy says: "I find that all roads typically lead back to self-worth. The person doing all the heavy lifting in the relationship feels on some level they need to in order to be accepted/loved. They people-please and settle for less than they desire out of fear they won’t get better or don’t deserve better."
Kevin attempts to placate Kim by taking a lie detector test but his efforts are futile. Kim tells Kevin that she still doesn’t trust him. Ultimately, though, the real issue seems to be that she’s just not that into him. And she never was. Kevin has wasted his time.
What can we learn from this? For me, the biggest take-home message of the new season of Bling Empire is about relationships, not money. The lesson? Chasing the affections of people who don't value you is pointless.
The show's exploration of how people navigate relationships (romantic or platonic) where one person is more invested than the other might be its most compelling feature — and, dare I say, its most inspiring. After all, if these sought-after celebrities spend their lives chasing the approval of people who don't like them, perhaps rejection really is inevitable. No matter what you buy or who you are, you can't be everyone's friend (sorry, Kane).