Profile: Kenji Tanigaki

Posted in Profiles by - November 22, 2021
Profile: Kenji Tanigaki

Date of birth: 13 October, 1970 (Nara, Japan)

Occupation: Action director, stunt coordinator, fight coordinator, director, stunt performer, actor, second unit director.

Biography: Kenji Tanigaki is an action director, stunt coordinator, fight coordinator, director and stunt performer. He is best known for his work with the martial arts star, Donnie Yen.

Kenji was born in Nara, near the city of Osaka, Japan. As a child, he learned gymnastics and trampolining, but says he knew he wanted to become a stunt performer after watching Jackie Chan in Drunken Master (1978). He learned Shorinji Kempo, and started to study with the martial artist and film star, Yasuaki Kurata, at the Kurata Action School – a forerunner to the Japan Action Club, founded by martial arts legend Sonny Chiba. He learned kung fu for four years at Kurata’s school, and from the age of 18, he started a career as a stunt performer in Kyoto, making mostly period dramas.

In 1993, Kenji moved to Hong Kong with the dream of becoming a stunt performer. In an interview with South China Morning Post, Kenji said he learned Cantonese by reading the entertainment section of the Chinese-language newspaper, Oriental Daily, and by listening to passers-by at McDonald’s. He says it was at McDonald’s where he was spotted by a talent scout who was looking for people to take part in an identity parade at the Tsim Sha Tsui police station. The same talent scout later called Kenji to take part in a TV series. While on set, Kenji got to know members of the stunt department. In 1994, he joined the Hong Kong Stuntmen Association, becoming its first Japanese member.

As a stunt performer in Hong Kong, Kenji worked with his sensei, Yasuaki Kurata, on the Jet Li film, Fist of Legend (1994). He also worked with Kurata in Ching Siu-tung’s Conman in Tokyo (2000) and Corey Yuen’s So Close (2002). From 1996, Kenji started to work more behind-the-camera. He first worked as an assistant stunt coordinator on the action comedy, Once Upon a Time in Triad Society (1996), and its sequel.

Kenji first worked with Donnie Yen as a stunt performer on the TV series, Fist of Fury (1995), co-directed by Benny Chan. The TV show saw Donnie play Chen Zhen, the same character Bruce Lee played in Fist of Fury (1972) and Jet Li in Fist of Legend. Kenji and Donnie would later bring the character back to the big screen in Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010).

When Donnie Yen started his own production company, Bullet Films, Donnie invited Kenji to join his stunt team. He worked as a stunt performer on Donnie’s directorial debut, Legend of the Wolf (1997), and his second film as director, Ballistic Kiss (1998). Much of his work with Donnie Yen has picked up accolades at the Hong Kong Film Awards in the category of Best Action Choreography, including the film The Twins Effect (in 2004), SPL (in 2006) and Flash Point (in 2008). Donnie Yen was also nominated for Hong Kong Film Awards for his work on Legend of the Fist (in 2011), Dragon (in 2012), and Special ID (in 2014).

In 2018, Kenji won a Taiwan Golden Horse Award in the category of Best Action Choreography for his work on the Chinese action comedy, Hidden Man. The same year he was nominated in the same category for his work on Detective Chinatown 2.

As well as working in Hong Kong, Kenji has worked on productions in mainland China, Japan and the USA. He has worked as the stunt coordinator and action director on all five films in the live-action Rurouni Kenshin series, based on a popular manga, and starring Takeru Satoh in the titular role.

In Hollywood, he worked with Donnie Yen and Wesley Snipes on the action horror sequel, Blade II (2002). In 2021, he worked as the fight choreographer and second unit director on Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, a big-budget franchise film based on a Hasbro toy range. He also trained the actors for the film, including its stars Henry Golding, Andrew Koji and Samara Weaving.

Kenji is also a director. He worked on the DTV Shinobi film series in Japan from 2002-2005, and in 2006, he directed the Japanese martial arts film, Legend of Seven Monks (aka Master of Thunder; aka Seven Monks), reuniting Yasuaki Kurata and Sonny Chiba. It was the first time the two had worked together since 1974’s Executioner. In 2020, Kenji co-directed the Hong Kong action comedy, Enter the Fat Dragon, alongside Aman Chang. The film was inspired by the 1978 Sammo Hung film and starred Donnie Yen. Kenji has also filmed motion-capture sequences for the video games industry.

In 2021, Kenji reunited with Donnie Yen and director Benny Chan on the Hong Kong crime thriller, Raging Fire, featuring a scene-stealing performance from Nicholas Tse. It would prove to be Benny Chan’s final film – the director died during its production in August 2020 from cancer. In 2024, it was announced that Kenji would make his directorial debut on the English-language action film, The Furious, for producer Bill Kong.

Kenji speaks Cantonese, Japanese and English. He lives in Japan.

Speech! “Now, I just feel free to shoot anything. Maybe people from America will hire me, and I go there. Maybe people from Africa will hire me, and I will want to go there. I just try to do something different – not better and better and better [all the time], just different.” Interview with Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast, 2021.

Click here to listen to KFMG Podcast S06 Episode 77 with Kenji Tanigaki.

Filmography (as stunt coordinator, fight coordinator, action director, stunt performer): 1996 Once Upon a Time in Triad Society (+ actor); Once Upon a Time in Triad Society 2; 1997 The Peeping Tom; Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (stunt double: Scorpion); 1998 Ballistic Kiss (stunts; + actor); Shanghai Affairs (+ actor); 1999 Moonlight Express; 2000 Tokyo Raiders; Der Puma – Kämpfer mit Herz (TV) (stunts); 2001 Glass Tears; Goodbye, Mr. Cool (+ actor); The Princess Blade; 2002 Blade II (stunts; + actor); 2003 The Twins Effect; 2004 Silver Hawk; 2005 SPL (+ actor); Always: Sunset on Third Street; 2006 Arch Angels; 2007 Kung Fu Kid; Flash Point (+ actor); 2009 The Shinjuku Incident; Kamui; Bodyguards and Assassins; 2010 Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (+ actor); Nanase: The Psychic Wanderers; 2011 The Lost Bladesman; Dragon (+ actor); 2012 Rurouni Kenshin; 2013 Special ID; 2014 The Monkey King Havoc in Heavens Palace; Miyamoto Musashi (TV); Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno; Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends; 2015 The Vanished Murderer; 2016 Book of Love; See You Tomorrow; 2017 Shinjuku Swan II; God of War; The Liquidator; 2018 Monster Hunt 2; Hidden Man; Big Brother; 2020 Enter the Fat Dragon (+ dir.); 2021 Raging Fire; Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (+ actor); Rurouni Kenshin: The Final; Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning; Royal Destiny; 2022 Fierce Cop; 2023 Sakra; 2024 Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In.

Filmography (as actor): 1993 Ghost Lantern; 1994 Always Be the Winners; Modern Romance; Once Upon a Time in China V; Fist of Legend; 1996 Those Were the Days; The Wild Couple; 1997 Legend of the Wolf; 1999 Gen-X Cops; 2000 SK Kölsch (TV); Time and Tide; 2002 So Close; 2006 Fatal Contact.

Filmography (as director): 2002 Shinobi: Hidden Techniques; 2003 Shinobi: Way Out; 2004 Shinobi: The Law of Shinobi; 2005 Shinobi: Runaway; Kunoichi 5nin shu vs Onna Dragon Gundan; 2006 Legend of Seven Monks (+ scr.); 2020 Enter the Fat Dragon.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

1 Comment

  • Sky Phawaves

    His work on the film series Rurouni Kenshin is the uttermost masterpiece of action cinema. The film series has the best of the best fight scenes with perfect editing and choreography.

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