Shin Ha-kyun first trained as a stage actor at the Seoul Institute of the Arts before going on to act in a large number of plays by Jang Jin. When in 1998 Jang Jin directed his first movie The Happenings, Shin was cast and he has since appeared in almost all of Jang's feature films. Impressed by his acting abilities, director Kim Jee-woon also cast him in minor roles in The Foul King and his 30-minute internet film Coming Out.
Shin first became a superstar with his role as a young North Korean soldier in Park Chan-wook's smash hit Joint Security Area in late 2000. At that time he developed a large fan following which, together that of co-star Won Bin, helped make his next film Guns & Talks a strong commercial hit.
In the next couple years Shin would take on two strong roles that would come to define his career. In Park Chan-wook's acclaimed Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, he played a deaf man with bright green dyed hair who is driven by desperation to kidnap a young girl. Then in Jang Joon-hwan's Save the Green Planet! in 2003, he played a mentally unbalanced man who believes that aliens are plotting to invade the earth. Together, these two intense and harrowing performances by Shin were an impressive display of his acting talent.
Also noteworthy are Shin's performances in two very different films set during the Korean War -- Welcome to Dongmakgol, a dramedy that takes place in a small mountainous village, and The Front Line, a harrowing tale of soldiers fighting over a small, bomb-blasted hill that regularly changes hands. The versatile actor has played the following roles: a developmentally disabled man in My Brother, a rural postman in A Letter From Mars, a suspect under interrogation in Murder, Take One, an eccentric hitman in No Mercy for the Rude, a struggling artist who makes an unwise bet in The Devil's Game, a sickly cuckolded husband in Thirst, a macho cop in Foxy Festival, and a music teacher having an affair in Cafe Noir.
Primarily a film actor, Shin had previously done only one TV series, 2003's Good Person on MBC. But in 2010 he returned to television in the quirky mystery Harvest Villa which aired on cable channel tvN. Then in the 2011 medical drama Brain, his portrayal of a cold, ambitious neurosurgeon brought him to new heights of mainstream popularity, and he later won the Grand Prize ("Daesang") at the KBS Drama Awards.
In 2013, Shin headlined the romantic comedy series All About My Romance about two legislators from rival political parties who fall in love, followed by the high-profile action film Running Man about an ordinary man forced to become a fugitive after he gets framed for murder.
He then played a septuagenarian whose body magically reverts to his thirties in the 2014 comedy series Mr. Back. Shin next gave a villainous turn as an evil mastermind game planner in the action-thriller Big Match. In 2015, he headlined his first period film with Empire of Lust, playing a distinguished admiral of the recently established Joseon empire.
On August 2016, it was revealed that the actor and actress Kim Go-eun who is 17 years younger than him were confirmed to be dating. In March 2017, It was confirmed that the two have broken up after 8 months of dating. His niece Park Eun-young is a former member of the K-pop girl group Brave Girls.