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Thursday, 4 June 2015

Koihime Musou Girls and Famous Koreans, X-tra LARGE Edition! (Part II): Cao Hong and Jo Seung-woo

Jo Seung-woo (Hangul/Hanja: 조승우/曺承佑; born March 28th 1980 in Seoul) is a South Korean actor. He is best known for his leading roles in the films The Classic, Marathon, and Tazza: The High Rollers, as well as in the stage musicals Jekyll & Hyde, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Man of La Mancha. He is a member of Changnyeong Cho Clan (창녕 조씨/昌寧曺氏), a clan which is originated from Changnyeong County, Southern Gyeongsang Province.

Jo Seung-woo grew up in a musical family: his father Jo Kyung-soo (조경수) is a singer, and his older sister Jo Seo-yeon (조서연) acts in musical theatre. Jo himself also dreamed of becoming a musical actor from an early age, however in 1999 while a student at Dankook University he was persuaded to join auditions for Im Kwon-taek's film Chunhyang (춘향뎐), and he ended up winning the part from among a field of 1,000 actors. Chunhyang would screen as the first Korean film in competition at Cannes, although domestically it failed to attract much of an audience.

Jo did go on to appear in musicals after his film debut, acting in local productions Subway Line 1 and The Last Empress. Soon he was drawn back into the film industry, however, with a key supporting role in Wanee & Junah (2001), a villainous turn in H (2002), plus a leading role in Who R. U.? (2002). In 2003, Jo acted in Kwak Jae-yong's romance The Classic opposite Son Ye-jin and Jo In-sung, receiving good reviews for his sincere acting. His popularity continued to grow, and in 2004 he appeared in Im Kwon-taek's 99th film Low Life, which flopped at the box office.

Jo's breakthrough would come in early 2005 with the smash hit Marathon, where he played an autistic young man who only finds release in running. The film sold over 5 million tickets, and Jo attracted great praise for his naturalistic performance which resulted in numerous awards and nominations, including Best Actor at the 2005 Grand Bell Awards and Best Actor in the foreign film category of China's Hundred Flowers Awards. Nonetheless, he continued to pursue his career in musicals, with critically acclaimed appearances in Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Jekyll and Hyde that had fans scrambling to find tickets. His success at pursuing both film and musicals make him an unusual case among contemporary actors.

Jo starred in Love Phobia (2006) opposite then-girlfriend Kang Hye-jung (now wife of Tablo of Epik High); both were praised for their acting, but the melodrama wasn't a commercial success. He then headlined Tazza: The High Rollers with Kim Hye-soo, the 2006 film adaptation of Huh Young-man's same-titled manhwa, which went on to become one of the biggest Korean blockbuster hits of all time and won numerous awards. Jo played Goni, who loses his family's entire savings after being swindled by professional gamblers, so to take his revenge, he sets out to become one himself. He followed that with Go Go 70s opposite Shin Min-a, about a rock and roll band during the height of the Park Chung-hee military regime, and The Sword with No Name opposite Soo Ae, in which he played a fictional royal guard in love with Empress Myeongseong.

After completing his mandatory military service, Jo made his comeback in the 2010 production of Jekyll and Hyde. The musical was especially meaningful to Jo since the actor rose to stardom when the show premiered in Korea in 2004. Jo's much-anticipated return to the stage was marked with controversy following reports that his salary would be the highest for any musical theatre actor in Korean history. While producers feared that demands for similarly high fees could follow (which could eventually put them out of business), others said that the fee was justified, based on the hope that Jo would help spark a renaissance in a once-vibrant but now-stagnant musical theatre industry. And true enough, when tickets went on sale, the demand was so high that the online reservation server broke down after 15 minutes, with all of the performances in which Jo was scheduled to appear already sold out.

His 2011 sports movie Perfect Game revisited one of the most exciting matches in Korean baseball history, between Choi Dong-won of the Haitai Tigers and Sun Dong-yeol of the Lotte Giants in the summer of 1987, which ended in a tie after being extended 15 innings; the rivalry between the two was further heated up by regionalism at the time with Choi representing the Jeolla Province and Sun, the Gyeongsang Province. Jo starred as Choi opposite Yang Dong-geun as Sun. That same year, Jo also took on the lead role in the musical Zorro.

After lead actor Ju Ji-hoon quit due to vocal chord problems, Jo joined the 2012 stage production of Doctor Zhivago just two weeks ahead of opening, turning the musical into a hit. He and Ryu Deok-hwan then played conjoined twins in actress Ku Hye-sun's sophomore directorial effort The Peach Tree.

Jo made his small screen debut in 2012 with Horse Doctor (also known as The King's Doctor), a period drama based on a true story about a Joseon-era low-class veterinarian specializing in the treatment of horses who rises to become the royal physician. Jo won the highest award ("Daesang," or Grand Prize) at the MBC Drama Awards for his performance in Horse Doctor, then returned to the stage in 2013 in Hedwig, reprising one of his most memorable musical roles.

Jo continued working in television. He portrayed the poet Yi Sang in Crow's-Eye View on the single-episode anthology Drama Festival, which later won a Silver Remi Award for Dramatic TV Special at the WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival. Jo then starred in the 2014 time travel thriller God's Gift - 14 Days, playing a private investigator who helps a mother (Lee Bo-young) save her child.

Jo reprised one of his most beloved roles in Jekyll and Hyde for the musical's 10th anniversary in late 2014, and the 18,700 tickets sold out in just 10 minutes. Because of his ticket power, he was chosen as among the top 30 most influential people in Korean popular culture in 2006, and for four consecutive years in 2010 to 2014.

Jo next plays a heroic prosecutor who uncovers bribery in the halls of power opposite Lee Byung-hun, a shady hoodlum who does dirty work for crooked politicians in The Insiders, a 2015 film adaptation of Yoon Tae-ho's webtoon of the same name. Jo was reportedly paid ₩600 million for The Insiders, joining Choi Min-sik, Jang Dong-gun, Won Bin, Kim Yoon-seok, Hwang Jung-min, Kang Dong-won and Ryu Seung-ryong in the second-highest tier of actor salaries in Chungmuro. He and Hwang Jung-min have also been cast in the Japanese stage musical Okepi (Orchestra Pit), which will open in December 2015.