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Feature: 'Karate Kid' star fights bullies

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter

LOS ANGELES, March 2 (UPI) -- Martin Kove, who played the ruthless karate instructor in "The Karate Kid," is using the DVD release of the 1984 feature to promote a campaign he is involved in that is aimed at discouraging bullying in schools.

Kove played John Kreese -- known to his karate students and to audiences as Cobra Kai Sensei. In the movie he trains his students to punish their opponents without remorse by teaching them that "mercy is for the weak."

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Now, Kove lends his association with the movie to a BullySafe International anti-bullying program that promotes a different message: "Sensei Sez: Show Mercy."

In an interview with United Press International, Kove said that the stakes are higher for bullying victims than they were a generation ago.

"In those days, you'd get pushed," he said. "Now, they have weapons."

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The program Kove promotes has an ambitious goal: "to actually change the culture of a school so that bullying and school violence are no longer accepted or tolerated."

Using clips from the movie the program exposes students, parents, teachers and administrators -- and even custodians, bus drivers and other school personnel -- to a range of anti-bullying techniques. School communities are then expected to follow through with a program designed to reinforce the anti-bullying techniques they have learned.

Kove frequently collaborates on the program with SuEllen Fried, who began working in child-abuse prevention in 1976 and founded of the BullySafe USA program (bulliesandvictims.com) in 2002.

Showing clips from the movie, said Kove, helps establish his credibility with students when he delivers the anti-bullying message.

"This guy (Sensei) is considered the ultimate bully," he said.

Fried's part of the presentation involves telling students that the only power bullies have is what they can usurp from their victims.

"It's better not to be like John because he's really a powerless soul," said Kove. "He takes power from his Cobra Kai group."

Ralph Macchio, who played "The Karate Kid" in a star-making performance, told UPI no one involved in the production at the time knew that the story would resonate the way it has. Macchio said the movie's popularity has endured because it appeals to a wide demographic range -- "the old six-to-60," as he put it.

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"A lot of the teenagers who saw this film in the theater in 1984 are parents now and watching it with the kids," he said.

When Macchio watched the movie for the first time with his children, he said he no longer identified with the brash young character he played -- but had begun to relate more closely to his mentor, Mr. Kesuke Miyagi. Pat Morita earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as Miyagi.

"What Miyagi was doing and teaching, I was connecting with," said Macchio. "(I thought) look at this kid -- he just doesn't listen."

Grownups have noticed those kinds of traits in adolescents for ages, but Kove said the contemporary technological landscape has made it even tougher to get through to kids.

"Kids today are victimized by so much choice," he said, "bogged down by so many technological choices, by how much is thrown at them, by credit cards, by films that are geared to special effects and violence -- and very little has to do with love and relationships."

Bullying, of course, is not limited to adolescents.

"Certainly in the movie business there are bullies all over -- bullies in the distribution business, exhibition business, production," said Kove. "Fine-tuning adult bullying is different. When a bully is an adult it's a whole different set of colors."

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Macchio said he still hears accounts of the movie making a difference in people's lives -- not just serving as a piece of entertainment.

"I've heard stories of people finding strength and guidance in the story because they relate to what the characters were going through," he said. "That's the cherry on top."

There have been four "Karate Kid" movies -- three starring Macchio and a fourth starring Hilary Swank, five years before she won her first Oscar for "Boys Don't Cry." Asked if he would be interested in revisiting the story at some point, Macchio joked: "You mean, 'The Karate Man?'"

Macchio said he might have said no five years ago, but now his attitude is never to say never.

"It always depends on the material," he said. "'The Karate Kid' was just lightning in a bottle. The second movie is a very worthy sequel, because you got to explore the Okinawan culture and learned about Miyagi's life. The third, as is always the case, was made because the second one made a lot of money.

"You wonder if it's too tired to go another round. If it's a terrific script, I would not hesitate in a second if there was some way to pass the torch on -- as long as the characters connected and the story worked, but no one's come up with an idea that would be worth developing at this point."

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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