The term „Gganbu“ is a term made famous from the Netflix series „Squid Game“. In the series, it refers to a kind of friendship between children who live in the same neighborhood. However, a gganbu is also understood as a kind of play partner.
Origin of Gganbu
The word „gganbu“ is spelled „kkanbu“ in Korean and can be translated as „partner“ or „very close friend.“ However, there are also some people who are more of the opinion that a word was used in the series that sounds similar but was from Chinese and was introduced into Korean usage. The word is then pronounced „Gan Bu“ and means something more like „expert“ or „superior.“ However, the word can also refer to some kind of elite group.
If one translates the Chinese „Gan Bu“ into English, it is translated „cadre“. Members of such a „cadre“ are specially trained and have the task of stabilizing social structures such as a company, an army or a state. At the same time, the members are to pursue and eliminate all factors that could lead to a weakening of the system. In English, one would speak of „Cadre,“ although this term is nowadays more commonly used for sporting fields.
Squid Game: Gganbu
In „Squid Game“ 456 participants fight their way through six different games to win a prize of 45.6 billion won at the end (which is equivalent to about 33 million euros). All of the contestants have gotten into financial trouble in one way or another and hope to use the money to build a new life without debt and worry. However, they quickly discover that they are playing for their own lives. Any player who is eliminated in a game is killed and thus eliminated.
In episode 6 of the first season, titled „Gganbu,“ the remaining players choose a fellow player to pair up with. The main character, Seong Gi-hun, takes pity on the player 001 to play with him. His teammate is very old and increasingly suffering from dementia. In the game, the players are to try to score 22 marbles. When the old man mentions that he had a „gganbu“ in his childhood with whom he shared all the marbles in such games, Seong Gi-hun and 001 make a „gganbu“ pact and want to win the marbles together.
However, they learn that they are not allowed to play against random players, but must play against the partner with whom they pair up. So Seong Gi-hun has to compete against the old man and play for all the marbles if he doesn’t want to die.
Meaning of Gganbu
Even though „Gganbu“ is supposed to embody the central conflict of players having to compete against their own partner, another meaning can also be derived. If we assume that the word could come from the Chinese „Gan Bu“, which means „elite“ or „squad“, another interpretation emerges. In this case, „Gganbu“ would mean that someone wants to filter out or eliminate weak elements in the games in order to strengthen someone else. Since in „Squid Game“ only one player can collect the winnings in the end, 455 players are thus „sorted out“ in the games in order to strengthen one person. We can even go so far as to say that the games are intended to „purge“ Korean society of people who are weak and have become a burden on the state because of their financial or social problems.