Forget the opening credits, it is all about glitz, glamour and a sprinkling of controversy. During the past three months, China’s film industry has been mired in a series of scandals which are more reel life than real life.

In the latest sequel from this long-running blockbuster franchise, A-list actor and businessman Huang Xiaoming has been dragged into a stock market manipulation scheme.

Although there is no evidence that he was involved in the scam, his name appeared during an investigation by the China Securities Regulatory Commission, or CSRC, into the Shenzhen-listed Jinghua Pharmaceutical Group.

“According to the released information, the company’s illegal [activity] was conducted through 16 stock trading accounts. And one of the accounts was held by actor Huang Xiaoming,” Caixin, the Chinese media group in Beijing, reported. “[But] sources close to the CSRC, who declined to be identified, [said] that Huang would not face punishment as he was not directly involved in the scheme.”

Along with his actress-model wife Angelababy, the 40-year-old heartthrob is treated like movie ‘royalty’ on social media by his legion of mainly female fans.

Successful business

He is also a highly successful businessman with an extensive stock portfolio and was ranked in the top 20 of the 2017 Forbes China Celebrity 100 list with earnings of 170 million yuan (US$24.7 million).

Indeed, this incident is unlikely to diminish his appeal after Huang’s studio issued a strongly-worded statement on Weibo, a Twitter-like online portal.

“To clarify the recent false rumors, I did not participate in stock manipulation,” it said. “We will continue to pursue accountability according to [the] law.”

Still, this is just the latest high-profile case to be played out in the glare of the media spotlight.

Actress Fan Bingbing, who is one of China’s major film stars, appears to have disappeared from public view after being caught up in tax evasion allegations, which she has vehemently denied.

Yet the row did trigger a major investigation into the industry, which is worth about $8.6 billion, by the Communist Party government as part of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive.

“Will Fan Bingbing go to prison?” asked one person on Weibo, while others feared she had been banned from movies or was under house arrest. There has even been a lack of activity on her social media account during the past few months.

As speculation mounts, the country’s tax authorities and film regulators have brought down the curtain on “unreasonable” salaries and “money worship,” which have “distorted social values” by “misleading the youth into blindly chasing after stars.”

In June, the Central Propaganda Department, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the State Administration of Taxation, the State Administration of Radio and Television, and the National Film Bureau issued a statement with concrete proposals to Xinhua.

“It reminded the industry about prioritizing social benefits rather than box office returns,” China’s official news agency stated.

Streaming sites

New regulations will limit the fees that stars can be paid for onscreen work to 40% of total production costs and stipulate that no single actor should command more than 70% of the total casting bill.

Nine leading television producers have already signed the agreement, including Huace Media, and online streaming giants iQiy, Youku and Tencent Video. Producers Linmon Pictures, New Classics Media, Daylight Entertainment, Ciwen Media and Youhug Media have also stated they will stick to the new guidelines.

“Major Chinese production companies of films and TV series released a joint statement on Saturday saying no to so-called ‘sky-high payments’ for actors,” the state-owned China Daily reported early this week.

“The authorities [have also pledged to] step up punishment against tax cheating and evasion,” the newspaper added in an earlier opinion piece.

It appears Beijing is determined to take the ‘lolly,’ which is British slang for cash, out of China’s Lollywood.