Bae Jong-ok began her acting career in 1984 with director Jang Hyun-soo’s student short film Consolation. Some of her early notable works are the films Chilsu and Mansu in 1988 and Portrait of the Days of Youth in 1991. Her performance in the latter won her Best Supporting Actress at the 29th Grand Bell Awards. In 1992, she reunited with Jang Hyun-soo in the film Walking All the Way to Heaven, which earned her the Best Actress trophy at the 29th Baeksang Arts Awards. In 2005, she was once again named Best Actress, this time at the 30th Golden Chest International TV Festival for KBS2’s More Beautiful Than a Flower. In 2008, she starred in the MBC weekend series Woman of Matchless Beauty, Park Jung-eum, which won her a Top Excellence Award at the MBC Drama Awards. In 2011, she received a Golden Acting Award at the MBC Drama Awards for Bravo, My Love. In 2020, she acted alongside Shin Hye-sun and Heo Jun-ho in the crime drama film Innocence, which scored her the Best Supporting Actress citation at the 26th Chunsa Film Art Awards.

Bae Jong-ok obtained a doctorate from Korea University. She and her husband got divorced in 1994. She has a daughter.