Korean blockbuster Peninsula, Japanese anime Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train and recent Cannes thriller Hunt, directed by and starring Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae, are among almost 160 titles Filmbridge has released in Mongolia since the distribution company was launched in mid-2019.
“Not a lot of content made it to Mongolia legitimately before. The market was unregulated and infested with pirates,” says Filmbridge co-founder Tsogtbayar ‘Tsogo’ Namsrai. “Our goal is to bring in as much content as possible, giving audiences access to commercial foreign films in a legitimate way.”
Soon after the launch of the company, which is based in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar with offices in the US and Australia, came lengthy cinema closures due to the pandemic. “We turned Covid to our favour,” says Tsogo. “Cinemas became empty when Hollywood studios withdrew their films. We supported them with titles, helping them stay in business.”
It was during such rare circumstances without big Hollywood competition that Filmbridge mounted its first theatrical release, Korean zombie horror Peninsula, which became a runaway success in Mongolia. The company’s box-office hits now include action thriller Greenland, sci-fi disaster film Moonfall and Russian fantasy feature Upon Magic Roads, as well as Paramount kids titles Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and Clifford The Big Red Dog. It has also re-released classic titles such as The Godfather trilogy and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
A strong result was expected for Demon Slayer The Movie, but the pandemic cut short its release after five days. Still, the film was proof of the strong demand for popular Japanese anime among young Mongolians who queued through the night ahead of the film’s opening in the capital’s Imax theatre.
Despite a population of just 3 million people, the Mongolian market is youthful and growing. To better reach these audiences, Filmbridge has hired young marketing staff who are given free rein to promote the films in a way that can speak to their demographic. The company’s social media has been growing fast, with almost 40,000 Facebook followers to date.
Word of mouth
While all its releases come with Mongolian subtitles, Filmbridge has started to dub family animations, such as The Queen’s Corgi and Bigfoot Family, in the local language. “The dubbed animations have helped bring back a lot of families to cinemas,” says Tsogo.
Filmbridge has also gone to great lengths in legalising the market, taking pirates to court and educating the public that piracy is a crime. To make legitimate online viewings readily available, the company is set to launch SVoD streaming platform Filmax in the second half of 2023. It already has nearly 800 titles in its collection, including new films, library titles, documentaries, drama series and Japanese anime series.
The bulk of the collection is Korean content. “We have all the library titles from Contents Panda, K-Movie, Megabox and most of the titles from Lotte and CJ,” says Tsogo. “We also have all the library titles from Voltage Pictures.” In terms of new films, the company also has output deals with Contents Panda, K-Movie, Lotte, Lionsgate, STX Entertainment and Luminescence Film.
The Filmbridge co-founder is pleased the company’s effort has helped put Mongolia on the map as a standalone territory, claiming that “sales agents used to package us with Southeast Asia, but not anymore”. The company has invested in new free-to-air Popcorn TV Mongolia, taking up a 50% stake, and owns a 50% share in Animax Mongolia, a streaming platform that specialises in Japanese anime.
Tsogo has served as a producer on several Mongolian films including Remember Me, The Woman, The Gladiolus and Big Brother, which are represented by his sales company Mongol Films Distribution. He is now determined to initiate projects and fund them through Filmbridge. Its first project, suspense thriller Disorder by debut director B Batdelger, is in post-production for delivery next year, while a further two projects are in development.
“On the production side, our plan is to make five to 10 films a year,” adds Tsogo. “They will be commercial films made on low budgets but with good production values and content that can cross over and travel internationally.”