ABU DHABI // A former Olympic bronze medallist, rival chefs and a painfully old farmer are among the characters to represent different facets of Korean culture at a film festival next week.
The free, three-day Korean Film Series will be held at Abu Dhabi Theatre starting on Saturday, marking 30 years of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea and the UAE, and amid increasing economic and political ties between the two countries.
The event was organised by the Korean Embassy and the King Sejong Institute, which was founded at Zayed University in October. It is the first organisation in the country to teach Korean language and culture.
"Without having in-depth and comprehensive understanding of each other based on wide people-to-people contact, more cultural exchange and language exposure, our bilateral relations may not be sustainable and continuously expandable in the long run," said the South Korean ambassador, Kwon Tae-kyun.
The embassy plans to organise regular joint cultural projects and events with the institute and other educational and cultural institutions, and hopes to make the film festival an annual event.
"Films not only tell stories but also reveal at the same time the nature, social structure, economic and political situation, culture and lifestyles of a country and its people," Mr Kwon said.
The three movies were chosen based on their appeal to a wide audience, said Donald Glass, the executive producer for the film series. They will all have English subtitles.
"We are expecting an Emirati crowd, as well as expat culture vultures," he said.
The award-winning independent documentary, Old Partner, set the record last year for Korea's highest-grossing independent film. It tells the story of an elderly farmer and his wife living in the Korean countryside, and their relationship with their aging ox. Lifting King Kong is about a retired weightlifter and Olympic bronze medallist who leads an ill-equipped middle school team to their own victory, while the action film Le Grand Chef, based on a popular Manga series, depicts two cooks competing to become the next chief royal chef.
"We wanted something that would appeal to all audiences - nothing too racy or violent, as some Korean films tend to be," said Christopher Brown, the artistic director for the film series. "The best way to describe these films is that each is very charming."
A Korean chef will prepare food during the screening of Le Grand Chef on Sunday, while a pair of tickets for flights to Seoul will be given away each night.
The event is being held under the patronage of Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed, the Deputy Prime Minister, who donated the Abu Dhabi Theatre as a venue. The free tickets can be picked up at the door.
The King Sejong Institute, based at Zayed University's International College, has about 150 members. There are about 65 people enrolled in Korean-language classes between the Abu Dhabi and Dubai campuses.
The UAE is the second-largest supplier of oil to South Korea, and the two countries have recently built heavily on diplomatic relations.
Earlier this week the national airline, Etihad Airways, began a daily service to Seoul, a year after a South Korean-led consortium announced a US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) contract to build nuclear power stations in Abu Dhabi.
"As the students become more educated about Korea, they are realising the economic incentives for learning about the culture and the language, which could be a road for them to get involved in many Korean companies here, including the nuclear power plant," Mr Glass said.