Bling Empire star and serial entrepreneur Kelly Mi Li talks about the unbelievable fun journey of the Netflix show’s latest and upcoming season, all while managing her offscreen businesses.
It all started when Kelly Mi Li was reading Kevin Kwan’s iconic trilogy, Crazy Rich Asians, and realised that many of fictional characters in the novel resembled her real-life friends. Coming from that idea, she partnered up with Jeff Jenkins – the man behind many of America’s most popular reality shows including Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Simple Life, and Total Divas – to create Bling Empire which was picked up by Netflix. Through the show, she aims to showcase the multidimensional stories and voices of Asian Americans. Below are excerpts from an exclusive interview with Prestige Indonesia:
Hi Kelly! Thank you for making the time for us. How are you doing and what keeps you busy these days?
It’s my pleasure and thank you for having me! Nowadays, we’re currently in production for Bling Empire season two. You can expect much more fun and glam from the upcoming season. It will touch upon a lot of the topics we introduced in the previous one, such as love, family, and culture. We have a lot we want to share with audiences and are excited to continue sharing our journey with them.
Aside from that, I keep myself busy with work and focusing on projects I’m passionate about. Also doing my best to maintain a balanced lifestyle, staying active and be outdoors in my free time. On the weekends, I normally go on hikes or to the beach with my two rescue pups, Kilo and Sophia. I also love to travel and experience new cultures and food.
All in all, how was the experience of shooting and producing the series for you?
The experience has been an unbelievable and fun journey. I’m so glad I got to film alongside friends who I’ve known and loved for so long. I’m used to being behind the scenes; so, being in front of the camera for the first time was a big learning experience for me. I tried my best to stay present and vulnerable during the filming process. It was very important for me to show our Asian culture and break Asian stereotypes in mass media.
We shot a lot of amazing scenes that didn’t make the cut. With only eight episodes in the season, it’s difficult to show everything that happens. A memorable moment that stuck with me was when Anna Shay shut down the Palace of Versailles as a birthday surprise for me when we went to Paris. We got to do a whole private tour of Versailles. It was an unforgettable experience.
To say that Bling Empire is critically acclaimed would be an understatement. What would you say is the recipe behind this success?
The success of Bling Empire is a result of so many different components. We had such a hard-working crew and cast. The cast and I have all been friends for a long time in real life, so the chemistry on screen came naturally. It was very important for us to stay as authentic and true to ourselves on camera. Even though the series is about a small circle of friends, a lot of personal experiences in the show revolve around issues that everyday viewers – despite age, race, or status – can relate to. All of this came together to help build the success of Bling Empire.
Bling Empire is hailed as the first ever all-Asian-American reality TV show. On that note, what is your take on the issues of representation, especially for Asian Americans, in mainstream entertainment these days?
Diversity and representation have made a lot of improvement overtime. However, we still have a long way to go, and we still need to continue pushing for more representation. In the past, Asian Americans have been casted for very narrow and specific roles often playing into stereotypes. We need broader Asian American roles to showcase the multidimensional stories and voices that exist in our AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islander) community. With Fresh off the Boat and Crazy Rich Asians paving the path, Bling Empire will hopefully build upon this and help greenlight more Asian narrative based stories in mass media. Having more representation will show younger generations that there are people who look like them on screen and that anything is possible regardless of your race and ethnic background.
What do you wish for audiences to take away from the show?
We hope that audiences will not only have fun watching the show but also relate to and learn from the experiences we shared. Through Bling Empire, we want to take audiences along the journey with us and share a piece of Asian culture and a world that not that many people are familiar with. With the COVID-19 pandemic and difficult times this past and current year, we want to bring entertainment, laughter, and joy to uplift people worldwide.
“As long as you remember to be authentic and follow your heart, the end goal will always be clear”
“In the face of adversity and struggle, I always remind myself that every failure and setback is another learning opportunity in disguise”
Besides Bling Empire, you also have quite a few other film projects ongoing or in the works, from Cypher to the recently-announced Good Guys. Can you tell us about how and why you entered the entertainment industry and how it’s been going so far?
I entered the entertainment industry on the talent management side to represent more Asian talent in the industry. From there, the transition into film and television production was very organic for me. I’ve always been drawn to untold true, authentic, and diverse.
You’re also well-known as a self-made serial entrepreneur with a wide range of successful business ventures. In a nutshell, what is your business philosophy?
My business philosophy revolves around pursuing cause-based projects that I’m truly passionate about and building a team who share in this drive and ambition. I strive to challenge myself every single day and learn from each obstacle I encounter. By pursuing projects I am passionate about alongside a strong team, the possibilities and progress that we make are endless. In the face of adversity and struggle, I always remind myself that every failure and setback is another learning opportunity in disguise. Believing in myself has gotten me so far in both my career and life.
Entrepreneurship is full of ups and downs. Can you share with us an anecdote or experience that really made an impact in shaping your approach to running your businesses?
Yes, entrepreneurship does have a lot of ups and downs. However, I’ve learned that with every “down” there is always an “up” around the corner like riding a wave. My immigrant experience taught me a lot about this. Immigrating to the U.S. with my mom and seeing her work multiple jobs when I was growing up plays a huge role in how I approach work and running my businesses. This experience has shown me the importance of hard work, perseverance and overcoming struggle.
You’re a film producer, entrepreneur, and investor. How do you manage your time and energy while juggling all of these ventures?
I have to thank my team and partners for their assistance and long-time support for each of my ventures. Having the proper time management to ensure I have a good work life balance also made a big difference in my career. I always make sure that I have some free time for myself and family, such as on Sundays, so I can relax and be more mentally prepared for the work week. I also turn off my electronics an hour before bed to help me wind down.
That being said, what are your goals for the future? Are there any particular milestones or achievements you hope to tackle soon?
I want to be the best version of myself every single day. My mental health journey has pushed me to slow down and get to know myself on a deeper level. This is a major goal in my personal life moving forward. When it comes to work, I plan to continue pursuing projects that speak to my passions and will have a long-lasting impact on the next generation.
We’re living in a world where people constantly share their lives online. What is your personal take on the importance of social media?
I believe it is a great tool and platform to connect people globally and build connections and communities. It provides an accessible form of communication and makes sharing information possible on a global scale, which I think is pretty amazing. I also believe that we need to acknowledge the limits of social media and remember that social media can be very filtered sometimes. It’s important to differentiate between what’s real and raw and what’s filtered online.
I like to share special moments and memories as well as everyday unfiltered snippets of my life. Being able to connect with people through social media has allowed me to build a community that promotes positivity and spreads love.
Your success has definitely inspired many people. What would be your number one piece of advice for those looking to make it the way you did?
My number one advice would be to stay true to yourself. In any career, you are faced with difficult decisions and obstacles that may push you astray. You need to be able to set boundaries and know that it’s okay to tell people “No.” As long as you remember to be authentic and follow your heart, the end goal will always be clear.
Photographer Ian Phillips & Mitchell Nguyen McCormack using Canon cameras | Sitting Editor Mitchell Nguyen McCormack | Styling Kimberly Goodnight