After having watched it, I can understand why this movie is receiving a lot of flak from its viewers.
As a stand-alone movie, the way the story was told was choppy and incoherent - there was often little connection from one scene to the next, and from one character's actions to the next, so the viewer is often left confused and dis-oriented with what is happening and why the characters are behaving the way they do. Therefore, in terms of story-telling, this movie falls down pretty hard. For those who don't know the story behind the movie beforehand, the film would come across not making any sense whatsoever, which, I can imagine, would be a very disturbing and disappointing watch.
Those who do know the story beforehand are generally able to fill in the blanks and insert all the backstory in between scenes, but even speaking as someone who knew the backstory beforehand, I still found myself trying to figure out what was happening on screen and where the scene fitted in within the whole. It was terrible because your mind is having to adjust and place the characters and circumstances in the right place as each scene flashed by, so you're always playing catch-up and whatever emotional connection you had with the characters ends up getting lost. You're no longer feeling the story or the characters any longer, you're playing catch up to what's going on.
It is worth noting that as the movie attempts to condense and reduce a very lengthy story into a 2-hour telling, the production team naturally had to make some changes to some characters and events which will inevitably differ from the original source material. While this is entirely understandable, it can also hamper the watch experience because in addition to the 'playing catch-up' process, the viewer is then also having to make sense of the changes within the movie-context in itself.
I personally found some changed plot-lines and new scenes baffling and bizarre, and to this day, still have no real idea why certain things happened, or what the director was trying to tell. A good example was the way the movie ended - haphazard, chaotic, baffling and bizarre.
In terms of pacing, the film was rather inconsistent. Some scenes were given plenty of space and air-time while other scenes flashed by so quickly that just before the viewer had time to absorb who was on screen and what was happening (especially for those having to read subtitles), it has ended and you're confronted with a completely different and new scene and your mind is having to adjust from the whiplash.
It made for a very scattered and dis-connected viewing experience and I can't help but think that if the director or editor had spent less time dwelling on certain scenes (the long pan and introduction into Qing Qiu being one of them), there might have been more time to allow other scenes to breathe better.
I also found myself wondering why the director chose to use or dwell on certain scenes which do not really add value in advancing an already fast-moving plot e.g. there was an extended sequence of Ye Hua cooking for Bai Qian (let's not even go into how that scene was depicted). Precious minutes spent on a cooking class when there is still so much ground to cover.
The choppy incoherent story-telling and inconsistent patchy pacing issues probably did not help (maybe even compounded to) the perception of underwhelming acting from the cast. Characters were not given enough time to establish their roles and personalities, what more for them to show us their evolution throughout the movie. As a result, it made it difficult for the viewer to understand their motives and their actions as the movie progressed. With the lost emotional connection, it is easy to pan the actors/ actresses for bad portrayals of their characters. Perhaps some of it can be put down to lacklustre acting ability, but I do also believe that another part of it was down to poor scripting of the characters, and to poor directing and editing of the movie.
Yang Yang and Crystal Liu were suitable for their roles, looks-wise. I thought Crystal was serviceable as Bai Qian but some key scenes which required her to exercise her haughty authority as the Queen of Qing Qiu did not have as much impact as I would have hoped for. Yang Yang portrayed a rather different Ye Hua from the original source material, in terms of personality and attitude. Some viewers might enjoy this fresh take on Ye Hua's character, while others like myself might have found it off-putting and borderline disturbing.
The rest of the supporting cast had too little airtime to really provide them with proper personalities, therefore a lot of them came across as one-dimensional one-note characters with a very set purpose to fulfil in advancing the plot along. They were there to do this, or do that, or say this, or say that, and their job was essentially done.
As I was too focused on trying to follow the plot and the happenings on-screen, I had very little time to appreciate the music score, except during that long pan of Qing Qiu.
Unfortunately, all things considered, I have to say that it was an unpleasant watch for me. There was very little I enjoyed or liked about this movie, therefore a re-watch is not even a consideration.