He is a graduate from Dankook University. While attending the university, in 1999 he took part in the auditions of the Korean Pansori film ‘Chunhyang’ where he got the starring role of Lee Mong-ryong among a thousand aspirants. Directed by Im Kwon-taek, Chunhyang released on January 29, 2000 and entered the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. Although the film failed commercially, it garnered positive critical reviews apart from several awards and nominations.
He made his debut in musical theatre in 2000 with ‘Blood Brothers’ which was followed by other local musical productions such as ‘The Last Empress’ (2000-2001) and ‘Subway Line 1’ (2001).
The following years saw Jo featuring in various versatile roles in films like ‘Wanee & Junah’ (2001) and ‘The Classic’ (2003) and musicals like ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ (2002) and ‘Carmen’ (2003) garnering good reviews and popularity for him .
His big break came with the 2005 blockbuster film ‘Marathon’ which was based on life of autistic marathon runner Bae Hyeong-jin. It became the fourth most attended Korean film of that year garnering US$33,284,089 at the box office. Jo essayed the role of Bae Hyeong-jin in ‘Marathon’. His breath-taking performance as the autistic young man, who releases himself through running and finds solace only in zebras and the Korean snack, choco pie, starring opposite Kim Mi-sook, earned him huge acclaim and recognition.
He also won several awards and nominations for his performance in ‘Marathon’ including the Best Actor award at the Grand Bell Awards and at the Baeksang Arts Awards in 2005.
In 2005, he also featured in two songs of the South Korean rock music band Boohwal namely ‘Another Side of Memory’ and ‘Prayer to Overcome Sadness’.
While growing with his big-screen projects, Jo continued to earn critical acclaim and popularity for his appearances in hit musicals including playing titular roles in ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ (2004-2005, 2006, 2010–2011 and 2014–2015) and ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ (2005, 2007, 2013 and 2014). Eventually his popularity in musicals became such that his fans would scramble crazily to fetch tickets.
The 2006 romance drama ‘Love Phobia’ saw him starring opposite his the then girlfriend, Kang Hye-jung. Although the two actors received praise for their performances, the film failed to succeed at the box office.
He next essayed the character of Kim Goni in the South Korean gambling film ‘Tazza: The High Rollers’ that was based on Huh Young-man and Kim Se-yeong's manhwa bearing the same title. It released on September 28, 2006 and became a huge success both critically and commercially grossing US$39,212,715 at the box office and positioning itself among the biggest blockbuster films in the history of Korean cinema.
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‘Tazza: The High Rollers’ remains one of his most notable films, and it not only furthered his fame but also earned him several awards and nominations including the Best Actor award at the Korea Movie Star Awards and the Jury Award – Best Feature Actor at the Newport Beach Film Festival in 2007.
He enlisted for two years of mandatory military service in the South Korean military on December 15, 2008.
His 2010 comeback in musicals with ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ saw an overwhelming response. All the shows that were scheduled to feature Jo were sold out in no time while such high demand for tickets saw a breakdown of the online reservation server within fifteen minutes of its opening.
The 2011 sports film ‘Perfect Game’, based on real-life story of famous pitchers and rivals Choi Dong-won of the Lotte Giants and Sun Dong-yeol of the Haitai Tigers, featured Jo as Choi with Yang Dong-geun playing Sun. The film grossed $9,966,609 at the box office.
In 2012, he replaced Ju Ji-hoon, who was having a vocal cord problem, to play the lead role of Yuri Zhivago in the musical theatre ‘Doctor Zhivago’ which became a massive hit.
Reigning in both big-screen and musical theatre productions for years, Jo made his TV debut with the South Korean historical medical drama ‘Horse Doctor’. The series was based on true story of Baek Gwang-hyeon, the Joseon Dynasty veterinarian played by Jo.
‘Horse Doctor’ aired on MBC for 50 episodes from October 1, 2012 to March 25, 2013. Jo earned two MBC Drama Awards in 2012 for his brilliant portrayal of the titular character including the prestigious Daesang (Grand Prize).
His next notable big-screen project was the role of Woo Jang-hoon in the November 2015 neo noir political crime action ‘Inside Men’. ‘Inside Men’ became a huge commercial success and emerged as the top grossing R-rated film in the history of Korean Box office garnering US$62.95 million.
Other noteworthy works of Jo includes musicals ‘Man of La Mancha’ (2007, 2013–2014 and 2015), ‘Zorro’ (2011–2012), ‘Werther’ (2015–2016) and ‘Hedwig: New Makeup’ (2016); TV series ‘God's Gift - 14 Days’ (2015) and ‘Secret Forest’ (2017); and films ‘The Sword with No Name’ (2009), and ‘The Peach Tree’ (2012).