Nose jobs, champagne and Lamborghinis –  A hot mess of ‘ultra-rich Asians’ in Vancouver

Ian Young in Vancouver



A scene from the promotional trailer for HBICtv. Photo: Veyron Media

Of all the manifestations of Vancouver’s rise as a global epicentre for wealth migration, “Hot Bitches in Charge TV” may be the most garish yet.

The planned “reality” show, starring a yet-to-be-cast bevy of “ultra-rich Asian girls in Vancouver”, is up against some serious competition. Consider the enormous “monster houses” that sprang up like stucco mushrooms in the city’s leafy neighbourhoods in the run-up to the Hong Kong handover. Or the N-plated Ferraris and custom-painted Bentleys that cruise Richmond’s Number 3 Road.

HBICtv creator Kevin Li, born and bred on Vancouver’s working-class Eastside, has watched the demographics of the city’s 400,000-strong Chinese community shift over time.  “Growing up, the first Chinese people I knew were like me,” said Li this week. “The second generation were the Hong Kong immigrants … The past 10 years I’ve noticed another generation, the ones who are even more affluent, who have more money to spend. I was wondering ‘who are these people?’”

Li isn’t alone in his curiosity. Since announcing a casting call for his HBICtv show last week, Li has been inundated with interest from around the world. Much has focused on a promotional video for the June 26 casting call, which features a group of pretty, Putonghua-speaking women guzzling  champagne, zooming around in Lamborghinis and spending money like there’s no tomorrow. “As long as we have fun, who cares about spending a little bit of money,” opines “Crystal Chen”, in between catty remarks about a fellow diva’s nose job.

Li, who is producing the show with his Veyron Media partner Desmond Chen, isn’t worried that he is perpetuating a negative stereotype of Chinese immigrants in Vancouver as nouveau-riche vulgarians.

“These will be four or five girls, who are having fun, spending daddy’s money, that are enjoying life and funding an economy. I really don’t know what’s so bad about that…worse is if you are quick to judge people based on where they come from and what they have,” said Li. “Some people’s minds have already been made up, about what, quote unquote, ‘these people’ are like. What this show is meant to do is let people in on who these people are…we are all so quick to judge, ‘these people are from China, they’ve got money, so they are bad’. There is way more to it than that and that is what this show will open up.”

But isn’t the point of the show that viewers want to see bad behaviour? “What is considered bad behaviour?” said Li. “So if these girls backstab each other, they are train wrecks, they cause drama amongst each other, well OK, that’s bad behavior…but at the end of the day, I’m trying to show a different side. Whatever way you want to interpret that is your own prerogative.”
Thirteen episodes are initially planned, with one Chinese broadcaster already expressing interest in picking up the show, according to Li, who has worked in broadcast media for 16 years.

He admitted that not all of the girls in the promotional video are actual ultra-rich Asian divas, although some are and are being considered for roles in the show. “At this point I cannot share which ones actually live that lifestyle and which ones don’t. [The ones that don’t,] I wouldn’t say they were ‘actresses’. They are friends.”

Li said HBICtv is not limiting himself to mainland Chinese divas, and is happy to consider any ultra-rich Asian girls, whether they are from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea or elsewhere.

He said he was caught off guard by the huge response to his show, which has featured in local and Chinese media as well as the Wall Street Journal. Li said that for 10 years he produced “Chinese-Canadian content, Asian-North American content, documentaries… and the media attention and the views I got in the past week outweighs all of them”.

“Everything I wanted to do about Chinese history, Chinese-Canadian history, nobody wants to know about it,” he said with a laugh. “Nobody watched it. So I stopped those programmes, Asian lifestyle TV, because of a lack of funding. This [HBICtv] is what people really want to talk about.”

The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver.