Extracorporeal life support (ECLS) has been widely utilized to treat neonatal respiratory failure for two decades. However, its uptake in the case of adult respiratory failure has been slow because of a paucity of quality evidence and a sluggish tempo of ECLS-related technological advances. In recent years, interest in ECLS has been piqued after encouraging results were reported from its use during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. In a world constantly under threat from another influenza epidemic or deadly novel respiratory infection, e.g., the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the role of venovenous (VV) ECLS as a treatment modality for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) cannot be overemphasized. In hopes of standardizing practice, the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) has published books and guidelines on ECLS. However, high-level evidence to guide clinical decisions is still expediently needed in this field. Relying on the available literature and our experience in the recent South Korean MERS-CoV outbreak, we hope to highlight key physiologic and clinical points in VV ECLS for adult respiratory failure in this review.