Kane Lim, Kevin Kreider, Christine Chiu, Anna Shay, Kelly Mi Li and Kim Lee open up to ET about entering the reality TV universe.
SPOILERS AHEAD! This article contains details from season 1 of Bling Empire. Proceed with caution… or after binging!
Netflix's Bling Empire draws you in with its Crazy Rich Asians hook, but it’s the heart behind the show -- the friendships, feuds and romances of a group of Los Angeles-based pals -- that makes you stick around through all eight episodes, which we can only assume led you here, to this article. ET video chatted with the stars of this sure-to-be mega-hit, Kane Kim, Kevin Kreider, Christine Chiu, Anna Shay, Kim Lee and Kelly Mi Li, to get answers to some burning questions left at season 1's end (some big, some small -- and there will be more to come, we promise), so read on to learn the story behind the show, plus behind-the-scenes info like, why did Anna have a penis pump in her shower?!
How the Show Came to Be
According to Kane, you can thank him and Kelly for bringing Bling Empire into your life.
"I'm sure you're familiar with the movie Crazy Rich Asians, right?" Kane asks, rhetorically. "After that movie came out, there was a huge you know demand in Asia, especially, to find out who these people are … who are these real families, you know? So I was obviously one of them that they sort of based the book on, so because of this demand my friend Kelly … and I were like, 'Oh my God. Let's do something together.' And we had this idea to do, like, a reality show together and then obviously we brought it to, I call him, ‘Uncle Jeff,’ Jeff Jenkins."
Jeff Jenkins is a bit of a legendary producer when it comes to the docuseries space, having been a part of The Simple Life, Keeping Up With the Kardashians and more beloved projects in the genre. Fans can also give him credit for convincing the show’s breakout star, Anna, to sign onto the project.
"I trust implicitly with Jeff, and he's a dear friend," Anna confesses, adding that she really wasn’t looking to sign herself up for reality TV until Jeff talked her into it. "He said, ‘I would love to work with you,’ [and] I thought, it’s time to work my magic, and there I was in front of a camera set up."
"Slowly but surely, the whole cast kind of came together," Kane says. "I've known Christine for, like, five, six years, Kelly for seven years -- Kevin’s, like, the newest person that I've gotten to know."
"Kelly introduced me to Kane," Kevin explains. "I was moving to Los Angeles and Kelly found me on social media, and was like, ‘Oh yeah, if you’re ever in L.A….’ and I’m like, ‘I’m moving to L.A.!’ And then I met Kane for the first time and I remember he was wearing these red, ruby shoes and I remember I was like, ‘I am not going to get along with this guy,’ and then we just hit it off."
"I know, it's crazy!" Kane says. "We come from such different backgrounds but … we clicked."
The cast is adamant that they are in no way trying to represent all Asians, just their group of friends, who represent a variety of nationalities and backgrounds, from immigrants to American-born, traditional parenting to Westernized approaches.
“[We] are not trying to represent Asians or the Asian community at all,” Christine promises. “We can't possibly do that, and it would be foolish to say that we are representative of everyone. We are solely representative of our own journey, our own stories, or own struggles.”
“We hope that [the Asian community] sees it as just people sharing their stories, and some of the portions of our stories may resonate with the Asian communities,” she adds. “But as a whole, these are very individual stories and we just happen to be Asian.”
What Do the Cast's Families Think of the Show?
The East vs. West conflict for the cast is probably best reflected in how they feel about their families watching Bling Empire. Some are excited, while others are figuring out how to block their parents from accessing Netflix.
"The in-laws, I think, that is a tricky situation for any person, Asian or not," Christine muses, though her situation is extra tricky, seeing as her husband's family line is that of the Song Dynasty. It took Christine more than a decade to produce a male heir for the family, which made her relationship with the Chius strained.
"I don't know how they feel," Christine offers. "I hope they do not watch the show, and I am secretly trying to figure out if they have Netflix. … Reality television is not something I think either sets of parents or families necessarily condone."
Kane says his parents are a little more open (he even suspects his mom has a finsta to stalk him on Instagram!), while Kelly and Kim’s families are fully onboard with the idea. Both of their moms make memorable appearances in Bling Empire’s freshman run.
"I don't think it hit her yet, like, are you ready, Mom?" Kelly says of her mother, Kimmy. "Like, are you ready for your social media to really blow up? She's like, ‘Oh, no it's not!’ But I'm so proud of my family, because it goes back to a lot of Asian families are very private, especially opening up to the world about your life. It's a big deal So, I'm so proud of my family to be a part of this."
The Penis Pump Saga
One of the unexpected drama gems of season one is a penis pump that Kim and her pal, Guy Tang, uncover in Anna's shower. Kim is so freaked out by the sex toy’s presence that she instructs Guy to launch it out the bathroom’s second story window, down into Anna’s garden, where their friends are enjoying a spa day. In a confessional on the show, Anna declares, "This isn’t a ‘screw you’ moment, this is a f**k you moment,’" a moment which puts a pause on her budding friendship with Kelly.
"The penis pump was in the guest bathroom shower," Anna explains. She says it was not hers, but a houseguest whom she's sure will be embarrassed by the whole ordeal (the houseguest was not Anna’s French BFF/co-star Florent Bonadei, however).
"I didn't expect people to walk around my house," Anna says. "If I were a producer, how could I not? How could I say, ‘Please, don’t use it!’ So you gotta go with the flow. It was there, they found it. Right or wrong, it doesn't matter. It's done, it’s there."
Kim apologizes for the penis pump drama, and it’s aftermath, which included a drink toss at Kevin after he accused her of being "raised by wolves."
Christine and Anna’s Feud Explained… Kind of
All season long, Christine and Anna play a cat and mouse game of social tricks on one another. Christine flaunts a necklace in Anna's face, Anna retaliates by changing Christine’s place card at a dinner to an "undesirable" location at the table. Anna invites Christine over for cocktails only to surprise her with a sexy yoga class, Christine fires back at a party by calling Anna out for loving anal sex in front of a crowd, and so on and so forth.
Anna says, at its core, the feud is due to insecurity… on Christine’s end.
"I don't have to prove anything to anybody," she declares. "I am me and not that I'm better than anybody, that is definite, but I don't need to prove anything. As my mother said, know who you are inside. I know because of my mother and father, who taught me, and maybe my age does factor a lot into this."
"I like to say that because she's older, I hope that she would be a little bit wiser than me," Christine offers. "I do have a lot to learn, of course. … Quite honestly, I am friends with Anna. I've known Anna the most out of the rest of the cast, our paths have crossed before, which is why we have such an interesting history."
"I think she enjoys the game playing and I'm a happy participant," she adds.
"If it looks like I did, it wasn't meant to be," Anna says in response, suggesting that none of her digs at Christine were premeditated. "But perhaps next season I can think of one."
For what it’s worth, Anna and Christine’s co-stars say Anna "won" whatever battle they were fighting, with Kevin, Kane, Kelly and Kim noting Christine never really stood a chance against her foe.
"My hope moving forward between Anna and I is that we focus our energy, not even on friendship per se, but really on things that matter more, like diverting our energy to causes that could affect positive change to those who need it most during this time," Christine says. "I hope that we will put the necklace-gate aside and put our money to better causes."
And for the record, Christine does not regret calling Anna out for enjoying those certain sexual activities.
"I say it really with a form of awe and admiration," she declares. "I have to mention that I did have a S-E-X, sex soirée at the Chateau Marmont penthouse. ... It was ladies only, all married woman -- black tie and it was very sophisticated -- but we did discuss all the latest and the greatest in sexual pleasure and I don't think that we should shy away from things that make us happy, and I know it sounds a little taboo, but I give Anna all the credit she deserves for being adventurous in her personal life, and I am hoping that makes her a happier person, because she is having happier moments in the bedroom."
"She had a sex party… so she claims," Anna scoffs. "I don't think that was real. OK, I’ll give you a sex party."
Ah, the feud continues…
Season 2? What the Cast Wants to See
Along with more of Anna and Christine’s antics, the cast hopes to take Bling Empire to new places in a potential season two… literally. While Netflix has yet to greenlight a sophomore run for the show, the cast is already thinking about what they’d like to show the audience and each other: Asia!
"I'd like to go to South Korea!" Kevin exclaims. "I'd love to go to South Korea with everybody. Not just to be like, ‘Oh, where are my parents at?" (Kevin, who was adopted by a white, American family and raised in Philadelphia, ends season one unable to track down his birth parents.)
"I think it could be a good cultural experience, because I think Kane always pushes me to be more Korean: ‘You’re too white, you’re a white!’" he jokes.
"I think it is good for you, Kevin!" Kane says. "Personally, I think traveling is going to be a huge thing. You know, we tried to travel for the first season, but obviously with time constraints and stuff like that, we couldn’t. I would actually like to fly the whole cast to Singapore show them what Singapore truly is. I know you watch the movies, you’ve seen all the glamorous stuff, but there's so much more to Singapore. Like the food, the culture, the people."
"I would love for us to explore and see [everyone’s hometown] or where they grew up," Kelly says. "You know, getting to know all my friends deeper."
"I would love to see Kim find love, as well," she adds. "And I would love to see Kevin find love, as well, hint, hint."
"Well, I definitely want to give love a shot because, all my life, I've always been the strong, independent girl that's all about, get your career first and love's always going to be there," Kim says. "So I'm actually manifesting. I'm praying every day, like, that I can manifest [love]."
While viewers will have to wait and see if Kim and Kevin give a relationship a shot (sparks seem to fly between the two in the finale), Kevin says his DMs are open.
"Kevin’s type is, like, ratchet," Kane cautions. "He likes the wild, ratchet type."
"I mean, as long as they’re OK with the attention I get, I’m totally cool," the often shirtless model says. "But yeah, they need to be able to be a little ratchet, get down and dirty a little bit every once in a while."
As for Kane, his DMs are strictly for business. Hit him up if you're looking to collab on IG.
"I'm trying to build [my Instagram presence] before going into love or anything else," he says. "And now, especially with the show, I’m sure there are a few but like... we’ll see, we’ll see."
Why Did Kelly Lie About Hooking Up With Andrew?
Speaking of dating, Kelly’s romantic life is a big topic of discussion from the jump on Bling Empire, as the season follows her decision to ultimately split from (and then seemingly get back together with) her boyfriend, actor Andrew Gray. The on-and-off couple share a number of tough moments on screen, from screaming phone calls to therapy.
"It's definitely hard to relive a breakup and really relive a very dark time in our life," she confesses. "But I think there's no regrets whatsoever. Everything happened for a reason. I think also, this show really helped bring all of our problems that we've been kind of avoided dealing with to the front, right? So we were able to grow a lot, actually, through this process."
"As hard as it is to watch, I'm just really happy that we got it on camera," she adds. "I'm actually happy. I'm happy to be able to share to the world, to people, and hopefully that's going to inspire maybe other couples that's working through difficult times, as well."
Kelly chose to lie to her friends about hooking up with Andrew after their split, coming clean in the finale about their make-out session after weeks of denying it.
"Me and Andrew’s relationship is so up and down, you know?" she says, explaining her decision. "We've been through a lot, we've been through on a roller coaster, and for my friends, I think I almost feel a little … embarrassed, in a sense, where I hate to have them go on this roller coaster with me."
Kelly says she was just trying to keep her drama out of her friends’ lives, but of course it spilt over, with Anna poking around, trying to figure out what was going on, partially because she was interested in seeing Kelly and Kevin get together.
"Where do you want me to start on that one?" Anna laments.
How Did Kim Really Feel About Kevin and Kane Tracking Down Her (Dead) Dad
After Kevin fails to track down his own biological parents, he makes it his mission to help Kim track down hers. The DJ lost touch with her father after her parents divorced when she was young, and hired a private investigator to find him. Ultimately, Kevin and Kane use the P.I.’s info to track him down, traveling all the way to Charleston, South Carolina, only to discover he died two years prior.
"That means a lot to me, actually," Kim says of the gesture, which initially seemed to rub her the wrong way. "I mean, that made me look at them in a different light. I was like, 'Wow, you guys are really good people to do that.' I mean, I didn't do that, you know? So it was a very weird time for me. Part of me was, like, happy they did it, and part of me was like, why are you in my business? I should be doing that, you know? But in the end, I'm so grateful for that. I know … everything happens for a reason. It really opened my eyes to a lot of things in life right now."
What Does Kelly Do for a Living?
While it’s pretty well-established where most of the cast’s money (or lack thereof) comes from (most of them have family wealth and big careers, from real estate to music and plastic surgery), Kelly’s just dubbed a “boss.” Turns out, that’s true, as she runs her own company.
"I have a merchandising import-export business," she shares. "I have had it for about six or seven years, and I've invested in over 20 different startup companies, as well. And then I produce TV and film, but scripted mostly."
What’s Baby G’s Real Name?
It’s Gabriel, just like his dad! Christine’s son is actually Gabriel Chiu, III.
Fashion, the Other Cast Member
Style plays a big part in Bling Empire’s first season, with the cast turning lewk after lewk from event to event. So, just how much dough did they drop on those over-the-top outfits?
"You know, we should never kiss and tell," Christine quips. "There were some beautiful showcases and they certainly weren't cheap."
Luckily, Kane’s a little more willing to spill the beans, confessing one of his favorite ‘fits, a Balmain ensemble, cost him upwards of $30,000. Then, there’s Kevin, whose clothes become a bit of a running joke in each episode, with Kane even winning a pair of the model’s favorite high-tops in a bet -- and no, he hasn’t given them back, but he does let Kevin borrow them sometimes.
"They were making fun of me?!" he jokingly asks. "I mean, look, I know as a model I’m supposed to have more fashion sense. But, dude, this [interview] is, like, my first time having a shirt on for anything in a long time. I'm not usually the guy with clothes. I could see myself being more, like, the underwear model, or fitness guy. So, when I show up without fashion, it's like, I think they expected me to be like the runway with Georgio Armani and stuff and big furs. And I'm just not."
Then there are the jewels, including some fakes. In the finale, Florent accuses Kelly of sporting faux diamonds at the "100 Day" party for co-star Cherie Chan’s son, and Kelly says he was right -- but she’s not ashamed.
"I have no shame in it whatsoever!" she says. "If anybody asked me, ‘Is that real?’ I will tell you if it's real or is fake. I don't need to be that necklace [to be real]. If it's real, it would have been probably $200 million and above, probably more. So I'm good. I'm happy with my choice of jewelry."
And Christine is happy with her choice of hair… every choice of hair. In pretty much every scene of the show, Christine shows up with a different ‘do.
"I have a passion for wigs," she declares. "I really like to take on -- without losing my personal identity -- take on a few personalities here and there."
When asked what her real hair looks like, Christine deadpans, "Bald."
Anna says she wishes someone would've told her to change up her hair before filming began. She's since ditched the blonde extension look for a red-tinged, much darker color.
Why Was Anna Doing Construction in a Ball Gown?
The world’s introduction to Anna, the half-Japanese daughter of a Russian arms dealer, is in a ballgown, swinging a sledgehammer into her closet wall in an attempt to tear it down. Anna says that was not a "just for TV" moment. That’s just who she is in her everyday life.
“You know, here's the problem” They take so long, the contractors,” she explains, “and they tell you what they want. So, I get frustrated after waiting the fifth or sixth time. So I was waiting for my best friend to get dressed so we can get going where we were going and I said -- I'm a little curious -- and I thought I would occupy myself.”
Stick with ET for more updates from the cast in the coming weeks (like where some of their relationships stand today!) and feel free to re-binge Bling Empire anytime on Netflix. All eight episodes of season 1 are now streaming.