SINGAPORE — Netflix’s new reality show, Bling Empire, which was dropped on 15 January, follows the lives of a bunch of crazy rich Asians living in Los Angeles.
Bling Empire serves up lots of glitz and drama and gives an intimate peek into the personal lives of a group of fabulously wealthy Asians as they navigate their relationships with romantic partners, social rivals, family and friends.
What will be interesting to Singaporeans is that among the cast of Asian Americans is one Singaporean cast member – Kane Lim, one of Singapore’s rich kids of Instagram. (Scroll on down for our exclusive interview with Kane.) The rest of the cast includes Kevin Kreider, the only one who doesn’t come from a wealthy background; Kelly Mi Li, who has a stormy relationship with her needy actor boyfriend, Andrew Gray; Kim Lee, an international DJ-influencer; Anna Shay, an heiress who acts as a sort of mother hen to the group; and Christine Chiu, a socialite whose husband, Dr Gabriel Chiu, runs a high-end plastic surgery practice.
There’s been some criticism that the “crazy rich Asians” in Bling Empire aren’t representative of Asians and the issues that the general Asian population in America faces. Such reviews are missing the point – this is a piece of escapist entertainment, not a sociopolitical documentary. It’s a peek into the world of the rich and what makes them tick. It also humanises these characters who normally seem to exist in a different world than ordinary people.
The cast members deal with issues such as family pressure stemming from Asian traditions, obstacles in their search for partners, and lost biological parents. Of course, in between highly personal stories, there is also lots of delicious bitchy drama, mainly from the subtle catfights between socialite rivals Anna Shay and Christine Chiu. And then there’s the penis pump that was thrown out a bathroom window by rude guests in the middle of a lawn party.
This interview contains spoilers for Bling Empire.
Kane himself doesn’t have a very prominent storyline compared to the other cast members’ dramatic lives, but the show wouldn’t exist without him – the 31-year-old told Yahoo Lifestyle SEA that he and his fellow cast member and friend, Kelly Mi Li, were the ones who pitched the show to producer Jeff Jenkins, and eventually Netflix.
Here are 11 things to know about Kane:
1. Reports about his father being a billionaire are inaccurate.
Kane comes from a family that controls a billion-dollar company, but he authorises me to correct inaccurate reports about his father being a billionaire. “He’s not that rich! Unless there’s something he’s not telling me!”
From what Kane told me as well as what was revealed in Bling Empire, Kane’s family has interests in businesses related to real estate, shipping, oil, and tankers.
2. His family in Singapore remains anonymous to protect their privacy.
Kane’s family, he says, is intensely private. “All I can tell you is that my grandparents came from Communist China with nothing. They’re so private; even in the way they dress, they're so simple. They don't flaunt anything. I'm actually the black sheep of the family – I'm the only one with social media and everything.”
Over the years, Kane has avoided revealing the identity of his family, partly also because he wants to make a name for himself independently of his family. “I do it on purpose because I don’t want to depend on them. And that’s the premise of the show – to craft your own empire.”
3. He was instrumental to the creation of Bling Empire.
Kane has known fellow Bling Empire cast member, Kelly, for years. Kelly was inspired by the 2018 movie Crazy Rich Asians to make a reality TV series based on the same concept, and Kane joined her in pitching the idea to renowned reality producer Jeff Jenkins, who produced Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Jenkins was sold on the idea.
Kane assembled most of the cast of Bling Empire from among his LA friends. “I didn't ask for any producer credit, but I actually pulled a lot of the members on board.”
4. Kim Lee joined the cast of Bling Empire after sliding into Kane’s DMs.
Anna and Kim are the only cast members who Kane didn’t know before production began. While Anna was brought onto the cast by producer Jenkins (the two of them were friends), Kim joined the cast after a chance Instagram conversation with Kane.
Kane says Kim DM’ed him when they were shooting a sizzle reel in order to pitch to networks. The DJ wanted to recommend Kane a network which she thought would be suitable for Bling Empire.
“At that point in time, I felt like, oh my god, the show was missing a sex bomb,” said Kane. “Someone like, you know, Kylie Jenner, that kind of, big lips, big boobs, kind of look. And she just fit perfectly.” So Kane asked Kim to meet Jenkins, and she signed onto the show.
5. He’s lived in Los Angeles for about eight years.
Kane arrived in Los Angeles about seven or eight years ago to study marketing at Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. He shares that he was never really good at his studies, but “not all Asian people score A’s and stuff like that”.
Kane’s work in LA involves making real estate deals through his company Kix Capital, through which he works with his family to grow their investment arm in the US.
Being a big fan of fashion (he has an entire wall of designer shoes in his flat which reportedly cost over US$300,000), Kane is also a fashion/lifestyle influencer, posting content on his Instagram about fashion and travel. Although he doesn’t like the word “influencer”, he does work with companies on social media collaborations, so he grudgingly accepts the label.
6. He almost had a Singapore storyline on the show.
Kane doesn’t really have a big storyline in Bling Empire – he’s there in most of the scenes among all the drama of the cast’s lives, but he doesn’t really have any major storyline of his own.
However, the producers almost sent him home to Singapore to shoot some scenes, although that didn’t happen in the end. “I think we didn't have enough time. We actually were gonna fly to Singapore, as well. But I think we just couldn't fit the schedule in.”
Kane says his role on the show is as the social glue that brought everyone together. “I think what I'm portrayed as is, I'm friends with everyone. I'm like the social connector.”
7. No, he didn’t come out as gay at the end of Bling Empire.
Although Kane doesn’t have his own major storyline, he does make a decision at the end of the eight-episode series to seek a romantic partner. The editing in the episode makes it seem like he’s asking out another male character on the show, Florent, Anna’s Parisian friend.
If you thought that was Kane coming out as gay, don’t be fooled! Kane says he’s not gay – he was just asking Florent for help to find him a suitor.
8. He still doesn’t feel like a rich person.
Although the super-wealthy seem to live in a completely different world than ordinary people, Kane says, “I never felt rich. I still don’t feel rich. I feel like I'm still living under my Asian parents, who’re always there trying to control you. I still don't feel I’m wealthy, but I do know that I'm more blessed than a lot of others.”
Kane was raised in an unassuming manner by his family – he’s mentioned in a previous interview that his father would drop him off at a bus stop near his school and tell him to take a bus the rest of the way. “I don't even feel that I'm famous at all. I personally don't think I'm talented in any way, except that I'm nice to people and maybe I do have some fashion style and taste.”
9. He hopes Bling Empire will humanise wealthy people.
Aside from providing escapist entertainment, Kane hopes that Bling Empire will show a human side to wealthy people in the eyes of viewers.
“I hope this show will bring people joy, and laughter and also tears. I just want people to have fun and take this lightly. We're all fun people and we’re all humans in the end.”
Kane says rich people experience similar problems, like going through life and death, or problems that ordinary people don’t experience, such as their personal security. “There’s also more drama. You know, sometimes they say that having less money, you can be happier. You know, there's a balance to it.”
10. His favourite places in Singapore are hawker centres.
Normally, Kane comes back to Singapore twice a year, once during Chinese New Year. He wanted to return this year for new year celebrations too, but decided against it because of the requirement to be quarantined for two weeks in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I come back to Singapore, I go to the hawker centres a lot. Those are my favourite places to visit,” said Kane. He also helped out at a temple in the past two years.
11. He became a Buddhist only three years ago.
Speaking of temples, Kane’s faith as a Buddhist features a lot in Bling Empire. He is seen meditating and he believes in karma and reincarnation. His family, however, are not Buddhist but “staunch Christians”, as he says.
“I found Buddhism three years ago. The more I delved into it, the more I was like, oh my god, this religion makes sense. Karma, cause and effect, cause and condition,” said Kane. “Buddhism is a very compassionate religion. It tells you to embrace all beings, not just humans. I don't know if this scene is on the show (editor’s note: it’s not): I did a demolition for a house. Before the demolition, I did a prayer for all the beings in the house, including for the ants and the spiders, and the producers found it really funny because they'd never seen someone do something like that. But in Buddhism, you were probably a spider before in your past life.”
“Buddhism in the past three years completely changed my life. It taught me to love myself and also to be compassionate to myself, because if you look at me in the past, I was like 200 pounds (90.7kg). I'm still dealing with weight issues but I've never been healthier and more fit than before in my entire life.”
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